Gaining STEAM: IJ Holton STEAM Expo fuels creativity, builds interest for students

Published 10:17 am Saturday, February 23, 2019

How much weight can a well-built pasta bridge support? That’s one of the questions that IJ Holton Intermediate School students answered Friday afternoon.

The intermediate school’s hallways were filled with hundreds of various projects that were related to STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics). Principal Dewey Schara shared that in contrast to the science fair held each year, the STEAM Expo was meant for all students of IJ Holton, and each student was responsible for making a project that embodied one of the subjects from STEAM.

Students filled the halls of I.J. Holton Intermediate School with experiements and presentations Friday during the STEAM Expo. Eric Johnson/

“Our students designed projects around all the letters of STEAM,” Schara said. “If they didn’t choose their own project for STEAM, they can create their own carnival game instead. It’s not just some students dooing projects. All students had to do a project.”

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Amid the hustle and bustle from crowds made up of staff and families, each student was able to display their personal projects with various poster boards, interactive models and more. There were projects discussing the mechanics of motors that works in wind turbines, to students performing on the piano, to even robotics.

For some, the STEAM Expo was an opportunity to showcase what they learned from the process of applying various engineering techniques to their projects, including sixth grade students Lincoln Bunnell and Mathew Gipple.

Originally, the duo thought about creating a catapult for their project. However, they decided to create a pasta bridge that could support large amounts of weight.

Michelle Graff looks over the experiment by her daughter Sawyer Graff, center and partner Hailey Wolfe during the STEAM Expo at IJ Holton Intermediate School Friday. Eric Johnson/

So, they used different building materials such as lasagna noodle sheets and epoxy resin for their bridge. With some help from Bunnell’s father, the two built a small bridge that took two weeks to complete. To their surprise, it retained its structural integrity through various challenges and broke a school record for the amount of weight it was able to carry.

“It was able to support 391 pounds,” Bunnell beamed with pride. “It was able to hold six 5-gallon buckets with sand, kitty litter and other stuff. My dad had ideas to make it stronger and helped us design the bridge. My older brother made a bridge when he was at IJ Holton and it was the winner back then. It was made from fettuccine noodles and wood glue.”

Learning and applying STEAM skills into their projects made the subjects come to life, Gipple said, noting that preparing for the expo was something that he looked forward to this year.

“I love getting to learn more things,” he said. “Instead of thinking ‘wow, that’s stupid,’ I thought ‘wow, this is really fun’ and you have so many choices. Some people think school is an excuse for you not to do anything, but it’s an excuse for you to learn everything.”

From this experience, students may have the chance to think more about their future and what careers they could be exploring based on the interests they discovered during their time at IJ Holton.

“I mostly like hands-on experiments,” Bunnell said. “I like it a lot better than testing and writing essays. I like building things.”