Last week at Gentry Middle School, 36 female middle-school students participated in a week-long STEM camp with a sustainability theme.
Female students from any middle school in Surry County Schools could enroll in the week-long camp at no cost.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math, and The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction is promoting STEM Education for K-12 schools “through project-based learning to understand complex problems and to prepare our next generation of innovators” to be college and career ready.
STEM Coach Tracy Pendry said the camp was a great way expose girls to science in a way that was immediately relevant to their lives through the sustainability theme.
Pendry described how the “young female engineers” worked on a variety of projects throughout the week, such as working solar ovens and a sturdy table built with newspapers.
“They learned the design process engineers go through. We worked on the solar ovens each day and they designed and re-designed, then we tested it on Wednesday. Unfortunately, we had to test with a heat lamp, due to the rainy weather, but the ovens were still functional,” Pendry explained.
Tables made out of newspapers had to be “aesthetically pleasing” as well as functional enough to hold a book. They were only allowed to use a certain amount of tape to construct the tables, so careful attention had to be paid to the best way to manipulate the newspapers in order to make them sturdy.
The students also programmed and built Lego robots, and in another project they tested the sustainability of different types of fabric.
Each day students examined the amount of trash they made after snack time and lunch time and compared each amount in order to see where they could improve.
One project involved looking at those amounts of waste and designing a pre-packaged snack package for s’mores they could make at home with a budget of about 50 cents using materials readily available. The snack package had to withstand higher temperatures and were tested using a hair dryer.
On Wednesday students traveled to Raleigh to visit the solar house at NC State University. They also toured the new library facility on campus, which has a robotic retrieval system. While there they visited Clark Dining Hall, which uses 30 percent locally sourced projects and incorporates trash composting.
“We would love to carry what we learned back to our schools,” said Janna Blakeney, a Project Lead the Way teacher with Pilot Mountain Middle School.
Also helping with the camp were Project Lead the Way teacher from Central Middle School, Lisha High, as well as Karen Hodges from Gentry Middle School.
One of the final activities involved small teams working together to construct a bridge after they heard a scenario about a recycling truck that needed to make it to a final destination, but had to do so using a limited supply of materials. Each team received 30 Popsicle sticks, one meter of tape, four sheets of card stock, and a yard stick to measure the length of the space they had to bridge, which was one yard.
Teams were reminded to brainstorm before working, and after a few minutes, most students were prepared to start examining and measuring materials in order to determine the best design for the bridge.
The 30-minute activity ended with each team attempting to roll a marble down the entire length of the bridge, from one table to another.
On the back of the STEM Camp t-shirts given to each participant is a quote by scientist Marie Curie, that Pendry said fit perfectly with the goals of the camp: “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.”
According to DPI, in North Carolina there are “approximately 400,000 STEM-related jobs and more than 70,000 net new STEM-related jobs will be created by 2020” and the growth-rate for STEM-related jobs in North Carolina is higher than any other job in the state. In addition, the jobs pay an average of 64 percent more than other jobs.
Through focusing on STEM initiatives, Surry County Schools hopes to propel its students to the next level they need in order to encourage students to develop 21st century skills for college and future careers.
Reach Jessica Johnson at email@example.com or 719-1933.