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UW Oshkosh, school district team up for Family STEM Nights

Multiple departments from throughout the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh have again teamed up with the Oshkosh Area School District to bring Oshkosh middle school students and their families an expanded series of free Family STEM Nights, science-based evenings of education and fun scheduled throughout February and March.

The first Family STEM Night in Oshkosh will take place at Merrill Middle School on Tuesday, Feb. 19 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Four more Family STEM Nights will follow at other Oshkosh middle schools. There is no cost to attend and participate.

STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Family STEM Night offers students and their families the opportunity to experience hands-on learning stations within schools in an informal setting. Moving from room to room, students and their families work together and learn by making things ooze and pop, building towers, determining the amount of sugar in a piece of bubble gum, testing the pH levels of various household items and more.

The primary goal of Family STEM Night is to get students and their families “doing” STEM together–experiencing STEM-related topics outside of the regular school day, said Reynee Kachur, director of Science Outreach at UW Oshkosh. The program gets families bringing STEM home–chatting about what they have learned and experienced over the dinner table on a walk or while on a car ride, she said.

“Those conversations and family support of STEM learning will create a community of learners better voiced in STEM–better prepared to make individual and societal decisions and better equipped with the problem-solving skills necessary to help everybody succeed in the 21st Century,” Kachur said.

Beyond providing middle school students with the opportunity to learn in a fun setting, Family STEM Night also gives UW Oshkosh students an opportunity to get involved in their communities.

“Family STEM Nights give our pre-service students additional opportunities to teach in an informal setting and to encourage science, technology, engineering and mathematics with the students and their families,” said Michael Beeth, associate professor in the College of Education and Human Services at UW Oshkosh.

Kelli Parr, a UW Oshkosh senior studying broadfield natural science and biology with the hopes of eventually teaching high school students, welcomes the idea of being involved with middle school-aged students through the program, she said.

Parr participated in Family STEM Night at Merrill Middle School last year. This year, through her role with the UW Oshkosh National Science Teachers Association, Parr was involved with organizing the volunteers.

“I had so much fun watching the families talk about STEM subjects…,” Parr said. “Many students assume science, technology, engineering and math are either boring or too hard. STEM Nights can help students have positive experiences with those areas.”

Parr said she also likes participating in programming like Family STEM Night is important to building community connections.

“I really feel like the UW Oshkosh campus is making a difference in the lives of the students,” Parr said.

Eric Brunsell, associate professor in the College of Education and Human Services, said he likes the fact that Family STEM Night gives his students an opportunity to interact with kids while teaching STEM topics.

“The project  serves as an excellent model for how our students can help schools engage families and strengthen school communities,” said Brunsell.

That is the same value Oshkosh Area School District administrators prize.

“These partnerships are a win-win; the education students are getting practical teaching experience, and our students are getting cool STEM experiences,” said Julie Dumke, community based learning coordinator for the school district.

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