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Seeds of a science center

WAIMEA — Some students at Waimea Canyon Middle School are curious about the science that goes into making pancakes. Others want to know how to prevent concussions in football.

Still others wonder why the Westside is dryer than rest of the island.

Those are some of the topics on the table in Deborah Rowe’s integrated science and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) class, with questions being answered through student group projects.

They’re also the kinds of topics that would be exhibited if there were a science or discovery center on the island — and that’s the goal for Rowe and Sarah Styan, who are partnering to facilitate the class.

It all started last summer.

Styan was putting together an idea for the Kauai Community Science Center nonprofit when Rowe returned from an international vacation where she visited a science center that left an impression.

“I thought it’d be great if we could start a science center on Kauai using this class to make the exhibits,” Rowe said. “I called Sarah because I knew she was already thinking in that direction.”

Styan envisions a multi-faceted center that engages visitors and residents of all ages and is populated by student exhibits. The two goals were a perfect match.

By July, Rowe and Styan had Kauai Community Science Center listed as a nonprofit, and by September Styan had landed a grant from county Office of Economic Development to form a pilot project for the center, dubbed “Students Sharing Science.”

Thursday, part of the 52-student pilot project was in the WCMS lab, working on exhibits that will be displayed at the end of the school year.

“Our question for our project is: What makes a pancake a pancake,” said Hi‘ilani Silva, who is working with classmate Angelina Hill. “Everybody likes pancakes and everybody makes pancakes. They’re delicious. How are they made?”

For their exhibit, Hill and Silva plan on creating an interactive video game that allows participants to make their own virtual pancake and experiment with the chemical processes that creates the popular breakfast food.

In a cloud of flour in the corner, classmates Kemani Kai-Kinzie, Shayden Ranis-Almeda-Dela Cruz, Makaiko Hickson and Antonio Damasco-Cornejo worked on a paper mache helmet.

That will be the centerpiece of their exhibit, which will discuss the potential for concussions in football players and look at ways to avoid concussions on the field.

The quartet said they’re most excited to speak with former Jets and Bears player Brandon Hardin via video messenger.

“We’re going to ask him if he’s ever had a concussion and why, how to avoid it,” Kai-Kinzie said.

Talking with professionals is another piece to the Students Sharing Science pilot.

“For every project or topic, I’m bringing in a professional to talk with the kids,” Styan said. “It’s great for students, but it also gives professionals and local businesses a chance to give back.”

Local geologist Chuck Blay, for instance, has already met with students who are studying why the Westside is dryer than the rest of the island.

After talking with him, students tweaked their exhibit prototype to model airflow and trade wind patterns, which helps answer that weather question.

Styan and Rowe are hoping students will have finished prototypes by spring break and final exhibits ready by the end of the year. They’re aiming to exhibit the collection at least once, but would like to install exhibits around the island.

“Overall, the goal is to encourage science literacy in the community, showing how science is integrated in everything and creating an educated community that can integrate that point of view in discussions needed in the future,” Styan said.

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Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or jelse@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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