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STEAM Expo 2016: Nevada County Superintendent of Schools


Spotlight 5.5.16

Nevada County STEAM Expo 2016
Nevada County Superintendent of Schools

What does a county office of education do when it realizes that its annual science fair and math tournament don’t reflect the 21st century learning happening in the classroom?
The solution for the Nevada County Superintendent of School’s office was to host its first-ever STEAM Expo.
STEAM is defined as “Science and technology, interpreted through engineering and the arts, all based in mathematical elements” by the website


Kathleen Kiefer, Nevada County Superintendent of Schools (NCSOS) Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Accountability, said they began planning the 2016 STEAM Expo by reaching out to Nevada County schools, local businesses, community members and others who have a vested interest in the type of educational opportunities STEAM encourages.
The STEAM Team came up with four areas for student projects:

  • STEAM projects (which replaced the science fair)
  • Math problem-solving
  • On-the-spot robotics
  • Art projects exemplifying the intersection between Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

Seven categories were created within the STEAM project option: scientific inquiry, environment/agriculture, robotics and computer science, Rube Goldberg, science fiction, reverse engineering, and invention.
Teachers worked with students on projects, investigations and problem-solving challenges to meet the Expo requirements. Kiefer said about 125 students representing most of the county’s nine districts, several charter schools and private schools “proudly delivered their products to the event site” to be judged at the April 9th event.
More than 1,000 visitors attended the Expo, held at the Nevada County Fairgrounds. On-site activities included hands-on math challenges, creating objects with 3-D pens and printers, robotics competitions, assembling and launching paper hot air balloons, writing code to control robots, science-based art projects, playing musical instruments, and more.


“In the end, I don’t know that we consciously aimed for this, but it ended up being such a unifying event for the county,” Kiefer said. “Many individuals and groups came to us and said they heard we were holding this event and asked if they could participate.”
In addition to the large number of volunteers it took to pull off the Expo, community and school involvement was reflected in the number groups participating, ranging from school clubs, robotics teams and the county youth orchestra to the Nevada County Engineers’ Association, which gave out cash awards to top student projects.
Many more community groups and individuals shared their talents, including Music in the Mountains, Girls Who Code, Parallax Robotics, Hour of Code, the Nevada County Astronomers and a grandparent who is an amateur radio buff.
Kiefer said that local companies that helped sponsor and participate in the event, such as Telestream, AJA Video Systems and, illustrated an important point about STEAM.
“We were all able to see classroom learning in context of the companies that were there that day. Students and teachers saw how interdisciplinary learning applies to real-world jobs. One parent said to me, ‘Now I finally get what STEAM is all about.’”

Kiefer said the reverse was also true: Companies were able to see that their local schools were helping students develop the skills demanded by today’s workplaces.
Holly Hermansen, Nevada County Superintendent of Schools, said, “Innovations that incorporate science, technology, engineering, art and math are poised to continue transforming our world in the 21st century.”
The goal of the STEAM Expo “was to give our schools a way to showcase their efforts to bring this type of education to our students.” Hermansen said they also wanted to link these educational goals with career opportunities provided by local businesses and organizations.
For many years, Kiefer said the nation’s schools have been “pulling things apart and teaching the various subjects in silos.” With STEAM, she said, “I love being able to pull it all together and look at the curriculum in context, in a comprehensive way. We haven’t been encouraged to do so until the last few years.”
The need to be inclusive and comprehensive shows why the STEAM Expo has to be in a single building, Kiefer said. “Once you start separating the disciplines, you’re pulling things apart.”
While Kiefer believes STEAM Expo 2017 will have even more participants due to the popularity of this year’s event, she said they will continue to hold it in one building. “We’ll just have to use our space wisely and be discerning in what we feature.”
Kiefer said the STEAM Expo’s top four student submissions have been recommended to move on to compete in the California State Science Fair, to be held in Los Angeles on May 23-24.


For more information:

• Read more about the NCSOS 2016 STEAM Expo and download the project guide.
• The NCSOS 2016 STEAM Expo brochure offers details of activities held during the event.
• The website served as a guide to the Nevada County team that planned the Expo.
• Find out how students are participating in the 65th annual California State Science Fair.

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