Over 300 people packed the Cutoff Recreational Facility located at 6600 Belgrade St. in Algiers on Saturday, Sept. 9 in a celebration of nature, science, math and children. STEM NOLA Day, sponsored by STEM NOLA and the engineering firm AECOM, was held in the hopes that children from throughout the city could learn more about our unique ecosystem and the importance of gaining an education to help sustain it.

STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math, exposes children to hands-on, challenging projects that expands their understanding of these principles. About 140 school children participated, with 110 parents joining in on the fun, 55 students from local colleges, and 25 STEM Professional volunteers from local organizations.

Dr. Calvin Mackie, Executive Director of STEM NOLA, used real life challenges in the environment to help the children conjure solutions.
“Recently, once again after raining nearly 9 inches of rain in some areas in a short period of time, the city of New Orleans was inundated by flood water for hours. Since the flooding, like after the great flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there have been ongoing discussions about the city’s drainage system, levees, pumps and the environment,” he said.

That forced children to think about the cause and effect of the storm.

Throughout the day, the children learned how we can live with water and how STEM makes it possible for us to live in the greater New Orleans region. The children used technology during the day.

“Students worked with STEM professionals and college students on experiments and projects related to the environment, erosion, wetlands, and coastal and flood protection,” Mackie said. “Students enhanced their understanding about the environment and natural hazards like flooding and coastal erosion while working together to perform basic environmental science experiments and by planning and implementing scientific and engineering solutions to hypothetical real world challenges. Students observed and performed activities with a screw pump to learn how water is pumped upward and out of the bowl called New Orleans.”
Actually doing the experiments and exercises was functional learning, he said.

“Students learned about nature and materials not just by observing them but more importantly, by using the materials in hands-on activities,” Mackie said. “In groups and individually, students experienced the engineering design process as they manipulated and tested materials like river sand and clay, built flood protection structures (levees), pumped water uphill using a screw pump (like used to drain New Orleans) and selected and used different materials (clay, sand, popsicles sticks, straws, sponges, etc.) suitable to the challenge at hand. Students found that the strength and stability of water protection structures in their community are linked to the properties of the materials used and to the particular way the materials are configured, applied and joined (I-walls, T-walls and earthen levees).”
Students learned how pumps and levees operate in response to flooding and how scientists try to control water in below-sea-level areas.

While the day was jam packed with experiments, hands-on learning, and project presentations, Mackie said almost every participant spent time exploring the Algiers levee, and it was then that he noticed how needed the STEM NOLA project truly is.

“During the middle of the three and half hours program, three different groups of kids were guided out of the gym and to the levee behind the Cutoff Recreation facility on the Mississippi River. We heard ‘oohs’ and ‘ah’s’ as the kids watched ships go up and down the river. We discussed how could you tell if the ship (was) loaded or not. The kids learned that the top of the levees is called a crown, and there’s a water side and a land side; and the land side is armored with cement to prevent erosion. The surprise was that many of the kids have never spent time on a levee and even many of the adults didn’t know anything about levees,” he said.

Living in Louisiana, one would think the levee system and its purpose would be a known fact, but Mackie said that just isn’t the case, and that programs like this one are imperative to teach children of their value.
“Our children should be immersed in a curriculum in school that teaches them about water control and management and environmental science as a part of physical and earth science as a part of school,” Mackie said.

To learn more about STEM NOLA and the program’s upcoming events, visit their website