A week-long Gateway Academy camp for middle school students offered a fun, hands-on opportunity to grasp and develop new skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Wisconsin 4-H Youth Development hosted the camp that also introduced youth to opportunities and careers in STEM fields.
Heidi Dusek of the University of Wisconsin Extension explained that Wisconsin 4-H Youth Development has offered these camps across the state for two years now. More than 400 youth attended last year.
Youth at the camps experiment with rocketry and robotics, explore alternative energy through projects like solar cars and wind turbines, and learn about eco-friendly design using recycled materials. Each project incorporates basic scientific principles, like physics and energy, while giving campers an opportunity to see some of the real-world applications of what they’re learning.
Camp activities encourage useful critical thinking, creative problem-solving and collaboration skills. Here are a few ways students embraced projects at the New London camp:
Middle school students reported that they discovered by using a different material for the nose cone, the bottle flew up in the air straighter. They used trial and error to see what level of liquid inside the bottle would give the greatest height to the rocket. They discovered a half-full bottle created the best result. The group discussed air pressure and velocity in relation to this exercise and got a real sense of how it affects objects.
Roller coaster marbles
Teams built roller coasters out of swimming noodles, by slitting them in half the long way, and using duct tape with found items to create slopes and loops in their tracks. They found they had to create long ramps for the marble on the track to build up speed and complete a loop in the track.
Five groups put together the biggest, grand daddy roller coaster of all, which reached 20 feet from floor to ceiling. Dusek explained that the teams learned by trial and error what was possible for the marble. They discovered the size of the marble, the angle of the track, even placement of the duct tape all played roles in the success of the experiment.
Team building activities were an integral part of the camp. For example, the robot game. One person look s at a picture located in the hallway, then enters the classroom and interprets the drawing to another person, who draws the picture using that vocal instruction. The team then compares the drawings. They learned that listening was one key to success, but also that one person may say the exact same thing to two people and get different results.
Gateway Academy compliments the Project Lead the Way curriculums that are currently offered to all New London Middle School students. Three certified “Project Lead the Way” instructors – Brent Dusek, Kyle Lubinski, and Jay Daly – provide project-base learning opportunities in their science and technology education classes, and enjoy the chance to extend these experiences to Gateway Academy participants.
Project Lead The Way started last year at the middle school level as an extension of Milwaukee School of Engineering. A similar program will be offered next summer at the high school level.
New London, Appleton and Manawa are three schools offering the Gateway program. In New London every student will now have the exposure to this new program as it is part of their curriculum. Those who find interest in the field can be helped by guidance counselors in the high school to take the appropriate classes for their future endeavors.
Another way to connect student interest to STEM fields, an engineer was invited to speak with the campers. Betty Leonard is a quality engineer. She let the students know that being an engineer can make a big difference for others. “Whether you are an electrical, mechanical or quality engineer, you can use your creativity and critical thinking to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “This field is a great way to spend your life’s work. She noted that as a quality engineer she makes sure products work the way they should for consumers so they are buying a useful, safe product.
For more information on Wisconsin 4-H STEM, visit http://www.uwex.edu/ces/4h/set/index.cfm. or contact Heidi Dusek at 920-832-5121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.