For the past seven years, SciFEST has been held on the Andrews University campus. This year, however, the faculty adjusted to meet the new requirements of COVID-19 physical distancing. All SciFEST activities were conducted remotely through LearningHub and Zoom from September 21 to October 4. Seven STEM departments took part in SciFEST this year: aviation, biology, chemistry, engineering, math, physics, and sustainable agriculture.
On September 13, Andrews’ STEM division presented a STEM Show. Elementary, middle, and high school students and their families were invited to tune in to learn about possible careers and meet the Andrews STEM faculty. Students had the opportunity to watch live demonstrations and videos from the departments.
High school and homeschooled students across the country were able to participate in SciFEST, as professors had pre-recorded videos for students to access through LearningHub. Regardless of time zone, and whether students were watching from home or school, this new format made it possible for students to fit the event into their schedules. This year, SciFEST witnessed its largest number of participants yet: roughly 300 students took part in the program.
Participants were placed in teams that connected through Zoom and Google Hangouts to work together on a total of six hands-on laboratory activities, which could be completed safely using materials at home. Placing students in teams encouraged them to think collaboratively in order to complete the activities.
“My biggest takeaway from SciFEST is definitely how it gave me a look at what team problem-solving is like,” said Sara Hamstra, a senior at Andrews Academy. “Working with my team gave me an opportunity to interact with two other students from my school that I didn’t know very well. I liked how they each had unique perspectives and different initial approaches to the tasks.”
The digital format of SciFEST also allowed students to enjoy an interactive experience with the staff as they completed their laboratory activities. “I liked the online format,” said Owen Cook, a freshman homeschool student. “All the information was there, and if we had a question, there was an easy way to contact SciFEST staff for help. They responded quickly and were very helpful.”
Activities included building a model of human lungs, evaluating flight simulators, and creating a plant collection. Through these and other activities, the students were able to engage with science in a meaningful way. “I enjoyed the challenge and the fun of hanging out with friends and learning ways to use math and science to solve problems,” Cook said.
SciFEST hosted an awards program through Zoom on Sunday, October 4. Students voted for their favorite projects, and the top three teams were awarded medals.
Ultimately, SciFEST was able to foster a sense of collaboration and teamwork despite operating remotely. “Each laboratory activity was a team effort,” said Monica Nudd, STEM coordinator. “In the future, we hope to host one on-campus SciFEST event and another remote SciFEST opportunity annually.”