The celebration of science, art and creativity that took place at Grandview High School on Nov. 12 had the feel of a long-established tradition.
More than 3,000 students, parents, community members and staff from across the Cherry Creek School District reported to the high school on a sunny Saturday morning for STEAM-a-Palooza, a celebration of science, technology, engineering, art and math. The day kicked off with the launch of a near-space weather balloon designed to collect atmospheric data, and continued with robot battles, visiting vendors from community partners like the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and much more.
Participants of all ages took part in all the different disciplines of STEAM. With the high attendance, the diversity of activities and the number of partners and vendors taking part, the event ran with the precision of a long-established community tradition. Indeed, it was hard to believe that STEAM-a-Palooza was only in its second year.
"When we had our debut last year, it was really a grass-roots type of organization," said Jon Pierce, Elementary STEM and Innovation Coordinator for the Cherry Creek School District. "It was a couple of guys who got together and had some great ideas about what kids are doing in the classroom … Two years later, we're growing in attendance numbers and popularity. We're noticing changes in what students feel they are capable of doing."
The rapid growth had a lot to do with the support of district officials, as well as the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation which helped fund this year's celebration. CCSF Executive Director Jill Henden said the STEAM-a-Palooza event was the perfect complement to other district-wide activities supported by the Foundation, from the annual Cardboard Challenge event to school-based weather balloon launches that take place throughout the year.
"I had a chance to come last year and I thought STEAM-a-Palooza was amazing. It really represents the wheelhouse of the Foundation. STEM and STEAM are two of the most important initiatives that we fund," she said. "Our Educator Initiative Grants have funded weather balloon launches, and we provided seed money to the district to get those initial experiments off the ground. Our districtwide Cardboard Challenge event is all about promoting creativity and imagination."
The theme of this year's celebration was "World of Tomorrow," and the students were focused on displaying their familiarity with cutting-edge technology. From robotic spheres controlled via iPads to intricate computer models, the event featured innovative uses of state-of-the-art tools. The arts component of STEAM was in full force as well, as students harnessed their creativity to construct mazes and create brilliant works of art.
The combination made for a celebratory, carnival-like atmosphere, and visitors progressed from one eye-catching display to another. Among the first-time visitors was Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Dr. Harry Bull, who took in the celebration with his son Hunter.
"This is my first STEAM-a-Palooza. This is not just STEM, the arts are in here, too. There's an integration of all of these disciplines and the interactive nature of it is real-world. That brings meaning to kids when you start talking about the knowledge that they have in the application of each of those disciplines," Bull said. "It's an exciting day, it's a fun day. Hunter is really jazzed about it, and it's a great day for the Cherry Creek School District."
Bull joined 7News Chief Meteorologist Mike Nelson and CCSD STEM staff to kick off the event with the launch of a weather balloon designed to gather data about atmospheric conditions. Before releasing the massive white sphere into the atmosphere, Nelson spoke to the crowd about the importance of the precepts of STEAM in his own work, which necessitates a constant combination of scientific know-how and creative interpretation.
Nelson also encouraged the assembled students to use the skills on display to tackle real-world problems in the future, whether it be for school assignments or in future careers as scientists to address issues like climate change.
"What I hope is that I can in some way inspire young people to be more curious about their world, to bring their attention to issues they face and just have a good scientific background," Nelson said. "I want people to become educated about true facts about how the climate works … so we can make the right choices in the future."