There were “Eeew”s and “Ahh”s when Alexander Dalley pulled a partially digested blue chromis from the stomach of a lionfish and held it up for his fellow students to see.
A Clifton Hunter High School student, Alexander, 12, did not know he would get the chance to cut open a lionfish when he came to the STEM Carib 2018 conference at the University College of Cayman Islands last week. But when the opportunity arose, he jumped at it.
Using a pair of surgical scissors, he opened the belly of the invasive fish and cut up past its gills. He and a group of fellow students then examined the internal organs to determine that it was a female lionfish and that it had eaten well, just before it was killed.
In a lab filled with about 40 students, Katie Correia of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, assisted Alexander in his dissection work, while also directing other groups who were busy identifying fish by their overall appearance or by their scales. She said the idea was to make the subject inviting.
“The overall point is to make science fun and attainable for everyone,” Ms. Correia said. “Science really means you’re just an adult being a kid.”
In essence, the idea was to allow curiosity to take hold. And there were lots of chances for kids to have their curiosity piqued during the four-day conference on science, technology, engineering and math. Those included a talk on looking at how physics works, or does not work, in action and superhero movies, how a degree in zoology led one teacher to become a consultant on “Jurassic Park” and a look at how technology is affecting the fashion industry.
This was the sixth year for the UCCI-hosted conference. The past three years, one of its partner schools, Harrisburg University, has co-sponsored the event, helping to bring in more international speakers. This year, 18 presenters came from off-island, compared to 10 last year. Student attendance went from 650 last year to 800.
“Every year it grows in popularity and in what we offer students,” said Stephen Ta’Bois, a STEM specialist from the Ministry of Education.
A broad spectrum of talks, workshops and displays showed students some of the possible applications of STEM-related studies.
“We’ve got VR, robotics, marine biology,” Mr. Ta’Bois said. “We’ve got liquid nitrogen (displays). It’s about getting students who are young and building that excitement.”
Part of generating that excitement, he said, is presenting science in an accessible and entertaining way. The theme of this year’s event was “Fact and Fiction,” which played out in several ways, including a discussion of opportunities in e-sports and a keynote presentation on looking at superhero movies through the lens of physics.
“We said, ‘What’s a theme we can roll with that encompasses STEM but is fun?’” Mr. Ta’Bois said. “And what better than comic books?”
“I’m glad they’re making it fun for younger kids,” said Kaylani Scott, 13, a Clifton Hunter student.
This was the first year in which primary students were able to take part. On the final day of the conference, some students who had participated in the UCCI STEM summer camp program for Year 7-9 students, presented their projects.
Malik Copeland, 17, of Cayman Academy, said he liked watching the younger kids talk about science.
“It’s an opportunity to show people, ‘Oh, I could do this,’” said Mr. Copeland, who plans to study information technology.
Ray Ann Havasy said making science approachable, rather than daunting, is important. Ms. Havasy directs the New York-based Center for Science Teaching and Learning, a foundation that fosters science literacy.
A zoologist, Ms. Havasy was teaching middle school science in the early 1990s when she got a call from Steven Spielberg to work as a consultant on “Jurassic Park.” After filming, she convinced him to let her have all the dinosaurs created for the movie. She created an exhibit using the robotic creatures that toured museums across the United States. The resultant money, she said, allowed her to provide $3.1 million in grants to dinosaur paleontologists.
“We have the job of empowering them so they feel they can have an impact and make a difference,” she said of students attending the conference.
“It’s not only about adults changing the world,” she told the students attending Friday’s session. “You can change the world.”