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S'mores and solar ovens highlight SEMAA camp
Rising third-graders Denise Lara Diaz (left) and Leia Richardson aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty as they make terrariums for planting flowers. Students in a recent NASA SEMAA camp used measuring skills to layer charcoal, pebbles and soil in recycled plastic bottles. Leia is wearing a “moon visor,” which students made by cutting a crescent moon shape out of paper and dyeing it in a mixture of water, soap and food coloring. (Contributed photos by Kim Barto)
Students participating in the recent NASA SEMAA (Science, Engineering, Math and Aerospace Academy) camp may have been eating s’mores, but they were learning at the same time.
This year’s camp, held at Patrick Henry Elementary School, enrolled about 350 rising first- through seventh-graders. The camp was sponsored by the NASA SEMAA program and incorporates activities related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), according to Anne Stultz, the city schools’ SEMAA site director.
Rising second-graders made solar ovens to roast s’mores and were taught that solar panels “provide energy and electricity,” said Claire Warner Coleman, a rising second-grader at Patrick Henry Elementary School.
Students made the solar ovens out of miniature pizza boxes, black paper and aluminum foil. The aluminum foil was used to reflect the sun onto the graham crackers, with the black paper absorbing heat to melt the chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers all together to make s’mores, said Lori Gongora, camp instructor and PHES teacher.
Gongora said it is important for children to learn about alternative sources of energy because the current resources are deteriorating, she said.
Emma Bredamus, a rising second-grader who is homeschooled, realized after the activities and lessons that “if you didn’t have the sun, most things you couldn’t do,” she said. For example, plants wouldn’t grow, Emma said.
Also during the camp, the second-graders learned how far apart the planets are; made solar bracelets that change color in the sun; and learned about wind energy and wind turbines, Gongora said.
Meanwhile, rising fourth-graders learned to use the metric scale to weigh earthworms and weigh out the worms’ food, which must weigh half the worms’ body weight, according to camp instructor Betty Allen Hall.
Jahiem Niblett, a rising fourth-grader at Patrick Henry Elementary, patiently added and took away food from the scale until it was balanced on 15 grams, which was half the body weight of the three worms in his bin. The bin included sand, dirt, water and shredded newspaper, Hall said.
Each day, students were responsible for measuring the food, which included items that decompose, such as tomato skins, apple skins and grass, Hall added.
Jahiem said he learned that worms dig holes in the soil, are decomposers and break down dirt and fungi.
Other activities in the NASA SEMAA camp included: rising third-graders made terrariums by planting flowers in a two-liter bottle and also drew constellations; rising first-graders learned about shadows and how they are formed based on the position of the sun and the Earth, and how seasons are formed based on the tilt of the Earth; rising fifth-graders set off rockets using film canisters and antacids and used compasses to go on a treasure hunt; and rising sixth- and seventh-graders played with yo-yos, paddle balls and Wheel-Os to learn about the effect of gravity and how it is different in space, according to Stultz.
With all of the STEM-related activities, the aim of the camp is to get students interested in STEM-related careers and also to enhance the regular curriculum they get during the school year, Stultz said.
The ultimate goal of the NASA SEMAA camp is “for learning to be fun,” she added.
The camp was open to city school students, homeschooled students and members of the Boys and Girls Clubs, Gongora said.