By Dave Ongie
Outer space is a large, grassy field and Mars is a large yoga ball shimmering in the distance.
One by one, students line up with their rockets, which have been carefully calibrated to take flight through the wild blue yonder before (hopefully) touching down on the yoga ball. The results are mixed, but the experience gained is invaluable.
The Johnson City School System wrapped up its third-annual STEAM camp last week. Rising third- through sixth-graders from around the city spent a week at North Side School immersed in hands-on activities that fortified their Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math skills.
Dr. David Timbs, Director of Technology for the Johnson City School System, said the camp has doubled since it started in 2016.
“The first year we had 90 students,” he said. “Last year we had 135. This year the board was very gracious and we went up to 180, so it’s grown in popularity every year.”
Students who participate in the camp must apply and be recommended by one of their teachers. This year 270 students applied, which necessitated a blind lottery. Walking through the halls of North Side, it’s no wonder why kids are clamoring to spend a week of summer vacation in school.
In one room, kids are standing in front of a green screen making their own movies, complete with special effects. They spent Monday learning about the plight of the honey bee, the problems presented by plastic that is floating in the Pacific Ocean and Sophie, an underwater robotic fish that helps scientists better understand schools of fish.
The kids were fine-tuning their scripts on Wednesday under the watchful eye of Ann Ferenbach, an art instructor at Lake Ridge School. By the end of the week, they were ready to film their movies, complete with props and effects.
Across the hall, students were building their own electromagnets, which they used to pick up paperclips. In the gym, students were piloting drones and using a cannon attachment to blast plastic cups into oblivion while another group was dropping eggs outside to test their ability to build a protective capsule.
With each passing day, the work got tougher, but the activities were scaled up to provide a more amazing experience.
“The first day, we just understood what a rocket was – the different parts of a rocket – and then we built a straw rocket,” said Casimiro Razo, who oversaw a group of rocketeers all week. “(The next day) we started looking into Newton’s Law and different forces. They weighed the noses of their rockets and looked at what parts were aerodynamic. The engineering challenge today was to build a rocket, figure out what degree and how much weight the nose of your rocket needs to have that type of momentum to land on Mars, which is a large yoga ball.
“It’s a lot of enrichment for these students for a full week.”