Students in New Trier High School's Society of Women in Engineering, Entrepreneurship, Technology and Science have been sharing their love of those subjects with elementary-aged students this year through a series of fun, hands-on events. The club, also known as SWEETS, is designed for girls to "do STEM, talk STEM, and encourage STEM.
"In science class at school, learning can be very directed; The teachers give you a lab with a question to answer, and you answer it," junior Talia Schacht said. "At SWEETS club, we get to ask our own questions and try different things to find the answer. I love that curiosity is encouraged because that's the best way to foster a love of learning.
On Nov. 17, SWEETS participated in "Science Saturday" at Dawes Elementary School, a partnership that began several years ago when a New Trier faculty member started organizing the event for her own children who attend the Evanston school. Club members organized two sessions for Dawes students spanning kindergarten through fifth grade, each involving hands-on science demonstrations and activities designed to engage the young learners.
"I really liked seeing how much joy we brought to the kids when we showed them everything," said junior Bridget Boyle, who helped plan the itinerary for Science Saturday. "You could see the interest spark in their eyes, and it's really sweet to know that you're actually making an impact."
To start the day, club members presented a demonstration using "elephant toothpaste," which produces a foamy substance that looks similar to toothpaste coming out of a tube. By using yeast as a catalyst, the exothermic reaction is caused by the rapid decomposition of hydrogen peroxide. Other activities included experimenting with dry ice and creating "oobleck" in a bag, a fluid that acts like a liquid when being poured, but like a solid when force is acting on it.
"Being all girls, our students also act as excellent role models for the younger girls in the audience," said New Trier science faculty member Bill Loris, who co-sponsors SWEETS. "The elementary kids' parents were also very engaged in the activities, asking the girls many questions on the side. To be honest, I'm not sure who enjoyed the event more, the Dawes students or the SWEETS club members."
At another event on Dec. 10, SWEETS hosted a Girl Scout troop from Sears School in Kenilworth at New Trier's Winnetka Campus, where they helped the girl scouts earn their Balloon Car badge. The troop broke into small groups and rotated through three stations, each with a separate activity. To earn their badges, the Girl Scouts built cars out of small cardboard boxes that were propelled forward by balloons attached to straws. They also used kits to build tracks for marbles and even participated in a challenge to see who could build the tallest tower out of spaghetti and marshmallows.
"I absolutely adored working with the younger girls and seeing how excited they were about engineering. Their love of learning is so inspiring," Schacht said. "Each one of their successes, whether that was building a really tall structure or having a balloon car run really far, felt like a success for me too. I couldn't stop smiling. It was amazing to feel like we were inspiring the next generation of strong girls interested in STEM, like us.
After developing a deeper understanding of STEM through SWEETS, both Schacht and Boyle have considered pursuing a career in a related field. In the meantime, they're planning for more meaningful discussions and outreach events with younger students in the upcoming semester.
"I am continually more hopeful for the diversification of the STEM fields," faculty co-sponsor Josie Elbert said. "With young women like our SWEETS club engaging, advocating, discussing and doing the work, we will all have a stronger future."