Learning by Doing

STEM&M camps keep young minds engaged with hands-on activities at Mazama High School.

It was the final challenge for students at a week-long science camp: Design and launch a bottle rocket.
Seventh-grader Joseph Jennings was among 25 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders who were up to the task. He inserted a tennis ball at the top of his rocket – putting it inside his two-liter plastic soda bottle – and then used duct tape and glue to create cardboard “fins” to attach to the bottom in hopes of making his design more aerodynamic and stable.

Others duct-taped balls on the outside of their creations. Some fins were small, some half the size of the bottle. One rocket-maker created a parachute out of a small plastic grocery bag.

Making – and blasting off – bottle rockets are great fun, but it’s also a solid science lesson on Newton’s third law of motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. (The rockets are filled partially with water and then air is added until the pressure created launches the bottle.)

Jennings was among 50 students from around the Klamath Basin who spent this week at one of two STEM&M
camps at Mazama High School. The camps are organized and led by Laura Nickerson, a science and robotics
teacher at Mazama High School. She is helped by science staff at Mazama and Brixner Junior High School and
STEM&M high school students, who volunteer as camp counselors.

STEM&M stands for science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine. At the four-day camp, students spend two hours a day building, creating and engineering projects.

Nickerson started the camp five years ago for elementary school students. This year, she expanded the program to include seventh- and eighth-graders, offering an afternoon session specifically for middle school students.

The older campers spent a portion of each of the four days working on their automata robots, which they built from cardboard, sticks, and straws. The goal was to make gear or cams so their robots had moving pieces.

Sixth-grader Kaylee Pang quietly focused on the inside of her automata robot, demonstrating how turning a stick moved the two cardboard wheels inside.

“I think it’s fun,” she said. “I like how we get to engineer things and get to make our own designs.”

Campers also created games with controllers – one student, for example, created a version of Whack a Mole – and then programmed circuits to operate them. Other activities included soldering metals and testing variables by baking four different cakes.

First- through fifth-graders participated in two-hour morning sessions. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, the campers designed a lunar colony using recycled materials. Other activities included designing air cannons, learning Newton’s laws by creating a skip toy, designing mason bee lodges and rubber band helicopters, and testing variables by making four different versions of slime.

The middle school campers also learned about Mazama High School’s STEM&M programs – touring the metal,
automotive and wood shops as well as the engineering and robotics classrooms. Nickerson hopes the science activities the students do at the camps inspire them to continue learning.

“I just feel it’s really important to get our Klamath Basin students doing as many STEM&M activities as possible,” she said. “In the future, we’re going to need a lot of engineers, we’re going to need a lot of doctors, we’re going to need a lot of people who can think outside the box.”

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