ExxonMobil and the Beaumont Independent School District are partnering to teach students STEM through experiments they can try at home.
ExxonMobil Beaumont is partnering with the Beaumont Independent School District (BISD) to “STEM”-ulate student learning by performing a series of experiments coinciding with their classroom curriculum.
ExxonMobil started the Stay at Home STEM program nearly a year ago in April 2020 to provide an interactive educational opportunity for students stuck at home due to the pandemic. The company continued the popular initiative throughout the summer and into fall 2020 while some students are still learning remotely.
“Starting in 2021, we really wanted to take it to the next level, and that’s when we started working with Ms. Parkerson at the BISD STEM Center to really see how the experiments we’re doing can correspond with the curriculum that the students are learning in the district,” said Emily Russell, Public and Government Affairs Advisor for ExxonMobil Beaumont. “The experiments that we’re doing over the next several months, really until the end of the school year, are going to correspond with the curriculum and learning modules that the BISD students are learning in class.”
BISD STEM Coordinator Marinette Parkerson said the Stay at Home experiments draw students’ interest and demonstrate the concepts they are learning, showing them how science and other STEM subjects impact the world around them.
“The Stay at Home STEM series keeps the students actively engaged in STEM and encourages them,” Parkerson described. “Educators have to keep exposing our students if we want them to continue to grow. Even in the midst of this pandemic – even in midst of everything that’s going on – we, as educators, have to keep exposing them and making sure that the curriculum coincides with what the kids are doing in their science classes, as well as bringing in the components of technology, engineering and math.”
BISD’s Parkerson has been involved with the Stay at Home STEM effort with ExxonMobil since last year. She encourages all students to participate during the experiments, and says most people have the necessary supplies around the house.
“All the supplies are easy to get,” she shared. “We use water, paper plates, paper cups, rulers – stuff you usually have at home to make it accessible for all students to participate in the Stay at Home STEM experiments.”
During the Feb. 4 presentation, students learned about erosion and those who wanted to perform the experiment at home just needed to gather two cups (glass or plastic), a ruler, a straw, a Styrofoam cup, water, a baking sheet or cake pan, four small cups of dirt and heavy plastic, like a trash bag or tablecloth.
Ross Garner, Process Manager at ExxonMobil’s Chemical Plant, and BISD K-8 Career Readiness Specialist Shamine Cormier cohosted the Feb. 4 episode, which is livestreamed every other week on ExxonMobil Beaumont’s Facebook page.
“This is going to be a great experiment,” said Garner. Today, we’re going to show you how wind and water interact with the world around through what’s called ‘erosion’ to create the landscapes that we see.”
Garner and Cormier carefully laid out the supplies and prepared them so students at home would know what to do and where to place each item. The end result looked like four mounds of soil placed on a protective surface at an angle to make it easy to observe on camera. The team punched a hole on the side of the Styrofoam cup near the bottom.
“For the first part of the experiment, let’s take a look at what happens with wind,” Garner described. He then took the straw – one of the supplies students had to gather beforehand – and slowly blew through it toward a mound of soil. He asked Cormier, “What did you see there?”
“I saw the soil move,” she responded.
“Yes, exactly,” he exclaimed. “One thing you might have noticed is that when we were blowing on this part up here where the soil is more packed and firm and connected, it had enough rigidity and strength so that the wind didn’t do much to it. But,” he pointed, “what happened down here? The wind was able to easily blow the loose soil.”
“So, now that we have seen what blowing wind can do to soil, let’s take a look and see what water can do,” Cormier followed. “This will represent rain,” she said holding up the Styrofoam cup with a hole near the base. “We are going to pour water in the Styrofoam cup, which will then demonstrate the impacts of rain.”
As the team held the cup over the mounds of soil and poured the water into it, water began leaking from the hole at the bottom and onto the soil.
“You’ll notice that water causes the dirt to break, and that the soil will move,” she explained. “So messy!”
“So, what are you observing? Well, you’ll notice here that the soil, once it gets wet, it starts to move more easily. Right? And that the momentum of the water is carrying that away,” Garner detailed. “Most of the soil that we had all around our hills here has completely been washed away – so very much similar to what you see in the world around us.
“Wind and water combined together over the last billions of years literally form many of the landscapes that we have.”
He compared the clean areas where the water washed away the soil completely to canyons and valleys and the remaining soil mounds to mountains that are still standing, continuing to erode over time.
“That’s the effect that wind and water have on the world around us,” he finished.
After the experiment, Garner said he enjoys educating students on the science he uses every day at work, and he feels that it is a great way for them to experience what they are learning.
“I actually love this. It’s fun to be here with the kids and interact and teach these science principles,” said Garner. “This correlates with their lesson plans, which helps reinforce the learning. So, with what we do at ExxonMobil, science is key. What I do at work and what I’m teaching my people at work uses the principles of science every day. Being able to reinforce it at the early learning levels is great because it prepares our future employees. These kids are our future.”
To watch the Stay at Home STEM experiments, tune in to ExxonMobil Beaumont’s Facebook livestream every other Thursday. The next one is Feb. 18 at 4 p.m.