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Hands-on science learning at this year's Camp STEMtastic!

Hands-on science learning at this year's Camp STEMtastic!
Posted on 06/26/2018
Launching model rockets, making slime and learning about chemical reactions are just a few of the things Robbinsdale Area Schools students are doing during this year's Camp STEMtastic. 

The two-week camp at Meadow Lake Elementary School is giving 220 students in grades K-5 a chance to learn about science through hands-on activities focusing on science, technology, engineering and math concepts.

The curriculum is aligned to the Minnesota state standards, but the learning itself is more than textbook.

"It's all hands-on, all the time," said Camp Site Coordinator Shannon Durand. "We've gotten extremely positive feedback about this program. Parents have been calling about this since March."

Different age groups focus on different activities according to grade level. Kindergarten and first-grade students learned about nature, crime scene investigation (CSI) and "SPY Science." Second- and third-graders learned Intro to Engineering and Young Inventors, and fourth- and fifth-graders took Motors and More, Aerospace Engineering and Rocky Science. 

 Learning about these concepts can be done in a variety of ways. For example, students in an Aerospace Engineering class launched rockets on June 22, and students in one Young Inventors class invented their own board games. School of Engineering and Arts fourth-grader Carrie Yeh worked on a game called "Be Kind," which was based on the movie "Wonder."

"You choose one of the pieces, and the pieces have different characters," she said, her eyes sweeping over the colorful patterns on the game board. "You draw cards, and whatever the card says, you do. Like this one, which says, 'Get a standing ovation,' and you move five spaces forward."

In another classroom, students in Erika Wismer's class learned about chemical engineering and chemical reactions through an experiment involving water, sodium biccarbonate (Alka-Seltzer) and a small container containing the two. When the two ingredients are combined, a cap is placed on the small container, and the students back away. Within seconds, the top loudly pops off the container and foam shoots toward the ceiling, prompting excited giggles from students in the room.

"Was that Alka-Seltzer crushed-up, or was it whole?" Wismer asks.

"It was crushed up," replies one of the students, which inspires further discussion (crushed tablets seemed to work quicker than whole tablets, students noted).

"What was released during the reaction?" Wismer inquires.

"Carbon dioxide," replies Nicholas McGregory, a Forest Elementary School second-grader.
"It makes a gas, which takes up the space in the container, and there's nowhere for it to go, so POOF!" Wismer explained. "It was fun."

"I thought it was going to make a lot of noise," said Forest Elementary fourth-grader School Aleah Harper. "It made me jump when it went off."

As the students find the lid to the plastic capsule used in the last experiment, Durand expresses hopes that students walk away with more than a hands-on lesson in science.

"I hope Camp STEMtastic helps students realize that school can be fun," she said. "Learning through exploration can be fun."

Camp STEMtastic will wrap up on June 29 with a science fair for parents and other guests.