Geil fourth graders enjoy STEM activities

Lauren Brant/Gering Courier Carter Hiatt watches Evan Strom pour nano sand into a mixture of water during a STEM activity at Geil Elementary Oct. 15. The students learned about hydrophilic and hydrophobic materials as the nano sand was dry when they sifted it from the water.

Geil Elementary fourth graders continued learning about nanos after school Tuesday, Oct. 15 as they problem-solved ways to separate materials on a nano-scale.

Entering into their second week discussing nanos, which refers to something extremely small, the students recalled there are 1 billion nanometers in a meter.

Nathan Rice, a Nebraska extension educator worked alongside Geil Elementary teacher Lisa Gass helping the students complete two nano activities. After passing out a cup filled with sand and ten pieces of gravel, Rice challenged the students to develop a plan of how to separate the sand and gravel.

“You and your partner need to come up with a filter to get the sand out and leave the gravel inside your cup when I flip it over,” Rice said.

Students grabbed their pencils and drew out an illustration of their design as well as wrote a list of the materials needed to create it. They could use straws, cotton balls, rubber bands, paper clips, plastic cups, duct tape, tape, cardstock and fabric. Their goal was to have the most efficient design, similar to what people want to achieve in a factory setting.

Autumn Hahn and Kian Johnson settled on using fabric, rubber bands and a paper clip in their design. They secured the fabric over the top of their cup using the rubber bands and poked holes into the fabric for the sand to come through.

“I love that we got to use our creativity and we got to see if we could separate the sand and the rocks,” Hahn said.

After ten minutes to create their design, everyone headed outside where Rice had the students tip over their cups into an empty cup. While some groups successfully had some of their sand come out, no one completely separated the two materials.

“We need bigger holes,” Rice said. “And, when we poke the holes in the fabric, where does the rest of the fabric go? Inside, so if we flip the fabric inside out, it works better.”

After the first test, students realized their holes had to be bigger than they thought and the fabric inhibited the sand from coming out.

The second activity taught the students the difference between hydrophobic and hydrophilic materials.

They poured sand into a cup of water and then poured the sand into a cup of water and oil.

“The sand goes down through the oil,” said fourth grader Emmalyn Herbel. “And with just water in it, the sand wants to stay on the top.”

Fourth graders also got to work with nano sand.

“The nano sand doesn’t like water and the regular sand turns into nano sand when it’s combined with the oil,” Carter Hiet said.

While working with the nano sand was something new for the students, Hiet was surprised by the final product when Rice put regular sand in with water and oil.

“It looks really cool,” he said. “It looked like wet playdough.”

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Lauren Brant is a reporter with the Star-Herald and the Gering Courier. Contact her at 308-632-9043 or by email at

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