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STEM camp serves students in Iowa Lakes Region

By Staff | Aug 17, 2012

Clockwise from left top: Instant snow polymer; designing wind turbines; collecting forensic data; examining microvertebrates; practicing lab techniques; testing student-built anemometer. Photos submitted

A three-day camp for middle school students late last month injected a healthy dose of enthusiasm and appreciation for ‘STEM’ subjects in the educational system.

While a new initiative is being launched this summer by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, Iowa Lakes was leading the way with a camp for students which would build interest in academic programs which are not all that common in many schools across the state.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

At the camp, students were led by Iowa Lakes professors in all four areas of STEM. Each day, students gained new knowledge, which will help them in making career decisions for the future.

Fun was infused throughout the educational sessions.

For example, in Brian Bristow’s class, students viewed pond scum through microscopes and identified micro and macroinvertebrates. The assistant professor of science also conducted serial dilutions and practiced techniques for collection. They collected bacterial loads from their own mouths and compared that to the bacteria found in a dog’s mouth.

Just down the hall in Dr. Bob Klepper’s lab, students learned the basic skills necessary to perform electrophoresis, including micropipetting and running agrose gels. Students discovered how molecules move through the gel matrix. This inquiry-based, hands-on opportunity provided for discussion regarding different types of food dyes. And, students were eager to gain bit of “CSI”type learning from the college professor as they worked with forensics while blood-typing suspects, dusting for fingerprints and studying the spatter patterns of blood.

Associate professor of physics Eric Olson spent time working with students to explain the value of wind energy. Students designed and built a small wind turbine. They then tested their turbines to see whose design generated the most power. The project aided them in understanding why this region is such a good area for wind energy.

Along that same line, the campers built an anemometer to identify wind speed measurement as well as the ‘direction’ of the wind. In addition, they built a clinometer, which helps in measuring tall structures.

Students also realized that technology is not limited to using a computer technology is applied science.

“For example, when the students built their anemometers, they used ‘science knowledge’ and made the connection between science and technology,” said Kristen Turner, Co-Coordinator of the camp.

On the final day of the camp, students were ‘dazzled’ a bit. Mark Zabawa, a member of the STEM Hub Advisory Council, brought in a variety of hands-on demonstrations for students to interact with and ask questions. Zabawa, an assistant professor of chemistry and biology, sparked student eagerness to explore the science behind various substances which included snow polymer, moon sand, chemical heat packs and color-flame birthday candles.

In addition to the STEM skills, students were led in various team building activities.

“In the 21st Century, being a team player is critical to a successful project. It takes numerous people to get a job done and every perspective is important to seeing a new innovation through to reality,” said Quincy Paden, TRiO Director.

Turner added that recent information indicates there are six critical skills that form the foundation for 21st Century Success. They include Information Literacy, Creativity and Innovation, Collaboration, Problem Solving, Communication and Responsible Citizenship.

“That’s why this project-based camp provided students with innovative experiences to build their background knowledge in all four areas of STEM education,” Turner said.