BHS alumna makes STEM fun for Baxter students: Author visit gets kids involved
BAXTER--Talking about renewable energy may not be too exciting to an elementary school-age student. But, add in a tidbit about how students create energy when they burp or pass gas and it will get their attention.
BAXTER-Talking about renewable energy may not be too exciting to an elementary school-age student. But, add in a tidbit about how students create energy when they burp or pass gas and it will get their attention.
Erin Twamley, a 2005 Brainerd High School graduate and former Baxter Elementary School student, did just this. Twamley visited with students at the Baxter school Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 17-18, to share her passion on renewable energy and other topics revolving around STEM-science, technology, engineering and mathematics-reaching close to 1,000 students, when including a stop she made at Lowell Elementary School.
Twamley's appearance was part of Baxter's regular author visits. Twamley, along with Joshua Sneideman, are educators and authors of STEM publications from blogs to children's books. Their first book, called "Climate Change: Discover How it Impacts Spaceship Earth," was published in 2015 and "Renewable Energy: Discover the Fuel of the Future" was published in 2016. A third book, "Everyday Superheroes: Women in STEM Careers" is expected to be published soon.
Twamley said the books are written for children ages 7-12 years old and are on things they can relate to involving renewable energy and climate change. There is a chapter on burps, farts and other greenhouse gases presented in a fun way to retain children's attention. The chapter talks about how the body produces a mix of enzymes and acids called digestive juices living in the intestines, along with billions of bacteria. The chapter goes on to state, "The digestive juices and bacteria break down foods so nutrients can be carried by our blood and used by our cells. While creating the energy our bodies need to walk, talk, grow and survive, this process also releases gases."
Gases release small amounts of nitrogen, carbon dioxide and methane. The three most prevalent greenhouse gases are methane, water vapor and carbon dioxide-two of the same gases humans release. "Small changes in the amount of greenhouse gases can upset the balance in the atmosphere just as small changes in your diet can have an effect on how you feel," the book states.
Baxter third-grader Madison Finnegan said: "I liked learning about farting and how they make cows farts into gas for cars."
Another commonality students can relate with is the gases a school bus emits every day into the atmosphere. Students learn how people can expand their sources of renewable energy, including solar, wind, biofuel, hydro and geothermal-all in relatable terms for a child.
The third book to be released in February 2019 discusses women in STEM careers and how they can be "STEM superheroes." There are 26 STEM careers included, from an astronomer to a zoologist.
Baxter third-grader Caydence Wenzel said she liked that girls were called superheroes and Dylan Gulstad, a first-grader, liked drawing his superhero.
"What a great experience to hear and see a real-life author who also went to Baxter Elementary," Baxter teacher Suzie Smith said.
"I'm passionate (about STEM research and education) because I believe we need a more diverse community and we need women involved in these fields," Twamley said during a break between classes at Baxter. "I didn't know when I was younger about the gap with women in these fields and in the people who live in diverse communities entering into these fields. These job are some of the highest-paid jobs and they don't necessarily need a four-year degree. People don't know about them.
"The second passion I have is technology, which is huge nowadays. Everyone has a cellphone, a tablet, computer, video games and these are the fields where people are creating these technologies and using technologies to advance our society, with renewable energy to coating technology to teaching kids how to problem solve. So my passion is how can we get kids to understand and see themselves in these careers, especially with young girls and people in diverse communities."
After graduating from BHS, Twamley attended Macalester College in St. Paul, majoring in psychology and focusing on research surrounding education achievement gaps. She continued her studies and worked for the federal government on STEM-related research. The Brainerd alumna also earned a master's degree in education and is a substitute teacher for Department of Defense Education Activity, a federally operated school system serving children of active-duty military and Department of Defense civilian families.
Twamley and her husband, Adam Grizzle, have a 2-year-old daughter, Ella, and they move often. Grizzle travels a lot through his work with the federal government and they have lived in Washington, D.C. and Seoul, South Korea, and currently live in Germany. They have plans to travel to Italy in February.
Traveling gives Twamley an opportunity to talk to students internationally. She conducts author visits and STEM and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) workshops at schools, libraries and for organizations. The author does a lot of hands-on projects with the students and lets them use their imagination.
"We want kids to see themselves in these STEM careers," Twamley said.
The family traveled to Brainerd for the holidays to see family and to conduct workshops at the schools.
Twamley said the biggest challenge in her work is trying to convince adults that elementary students are capable of learning and saying the science jargon.
"Kids are capable of learning these bigger words," Twamley said. "When kids grow up they can say I want to be an astronomer or a zoologist, just as well as wanting to be a dentist or a doctor."
Twamley said she wants to change the way people think about STEM careers. She said studies have shown since the 1970s, a child asked to describe a scientist will state it's a man with glasses in a white lab coat, holding a chemical beaker.
"We need to change the way they see a scientist," Twamley said. "Data shows that in the '70s, 1 in 10 drew a female and today in 2018 it is 3 in 10. We still have a long way to go. We are making progress, but there are still 70 percent of kids both boys and girls drawing a scientist as not only a man, but in a white lab coat with a beaker. We really need to change what people see."