STEM Experiments in a Virtual World

STEM Zone Saturday Continues to Reach K-12 Students

Engaging K-12 students during the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a multitude of challenges to educators across the country. Virtual classroom environments limit student access, particularly in STEM subjects where inquiry-based exploration is key.

Karoline Mueller
Karoline Mueller of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH provides a STEM Zone Saturday lesson on electromagnetism.

The UH STEM Center’s STEM Zone Saturday program provides real-world relevance and academic rigor, and fosters mentorship of K-12 students from various school districts by UH undergraduates, faculty, and industry partners. Partnering with the local non-profit Kids' Lives Matter offered the opportunity to connect students from Houston’s Third and Fifth Ward public housing communities to the UH campus where inquiry-based activities and near-peer relationships support academic exploration and persistence in STEM.

Jaden Salas
Jaden Salas receives his STEM kit so he can join in STEM experiments at home with the help of the UH STEM Center and TcSUH.

Due to COVID-19, the STEM Zone Saturday program transitioned to an online format to continue to build capacity in the STEM workforce pipeline particularly for female and minority students.

Recognizing the challenge teachers face to provide the scientific supplies and equipment needed for experiments, the UH STEM Center makes sure participants receive STEM kits prior to each event so they are fully engaged.

Errol Larkins, STEM Coordinator at Killough Middle School, has been an active program partner. “As I delivered the UH STEM Center kits, I was encouraged by the excitement students displayed at returning to the types of activities held in our classrooms prior to the pandemic,” he said.

Tahj & Ty Harris
Tahj and Ty Harris explore electromagnetism during the October STEM Zone Saturday event.

Featured during the October STEM Zone Saturday online event, keynote speaker Karoline Mueller, research associate at the Materials Characterization Facility of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH (TcSUH), introduced middle and high school students to the wonders of superconductivity. At the same event, Heather Domjan, STEM Center interim executive director and College of Education associate professor in science education, engaged elementary students in an electromagnet investigation.

Ezinne Okwuonu
UH STEM Center Outreach Squad member and computer science major Ezinne Okwuonu shares key experiences that impacted her transition from high school to college.

While students were very engaged during the presentation and asked questions, they were eager to open up the TcSUH-supplied kit filled with materials to explore magnets, eddy currents, and motors. Two ½” neodymium magnets, one separated from the other in a plastic box, facilitated the playful experience of the magnetic force.

The STEM Center Outreach Squad, comprised of 20 undergraduate and graduate UH STEM majors, provided encouragement and guidance as participants explored how to get their magnets to dance. Students delighted in having the magnets magically glued to opposite sides of their hand, demonstrating that the magnetic field penetrates through materials and that force depends on distance.

Next, students observed the braking force of a magnet dropping through a piece of ½” copper pipe. Mueller conducted two additional demonstrations of eddy currents and electrons being set into motion through a change in magnetic flux and moving electrons creating a magnetic field.

Based on the knowledge gained from Mueller’s demonstrations, participants then built homopolar motors using a magnet, piece of copper wire, and AA battery.

“It was a pleasure to introduce students to the wonders of superconductivity and lead hands-on inquiry based activities to explore electromagnetism,” Mueller said.

Within the online format, students from Kids’ Lives Matter are able to advance the STEM exploration that began in person on the UH campus in 2018. The Saturday STEM Zone program has expanded during the pandemic, reaching beyond the Houston community to include students in Colombia and Ghana that are part of the Kids’ Lives Matter international network.

“STEM Zone Saturdays are always so engaging for our students, who enjoy the speakers and having the opportunity to work with the UH students in the breakout sessions. The UH STEM Center team does an amazing job of planning wonderful learning experiences to motivate and inspire! Our students are always asking, ‘When is the next time we will have a STEM Zone Saturday?’” said Madelyn Traylor, co-director of Kids Lives Matter.

“Engaging all levels of the K-12 pipeline is vital to the infrastructure of our nation’s industries. The STEM Zone Saturday program provides opportunities for participants to explore STEM career fields while connecting with UH students and faculty members,” said Domjan.

Students can look forward to future STEM Zone Saturday events featuring speakers from NASA and the UH College of Medicine. For more information, contact the UH STEM Center at