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City students ‘space’ out at SEMAA camp
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Rising sixth-grader Najuan Dudley holds up the “glowstick” he made in Martinsville City Schools’ NASA SEMAA camp. The camp, which stands for Science, Engineering, Math and Aerospace Academy, featured everything from crafts about the moon and planets to a “rocket launch” last week. (Contributed photos)
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Monday, June 17, 2013

By KIM BUCK - Special to the Bulletin

About 330 city students had an “out-of-this-world” week at a free space-themed summer camp run by the school division.

Martinsville City Schools’ NASA SEMAA camp, which stands for Science, Engineering, Math and Aerospace Academy, featured everything from crafts about the moon and planets to a “rocket launch” last week. Campers did a variety of hands-on science activities, like planting a flower in a terrarium, creating a natural water filtration system using rocks and sand, and racing balloon-powered cars.

Rising third-graders made their own murals of the night sky after learning about the Greek myths that gave rise to the constellations. They outlined the constellations in chalk on black paper and marked the stars with pieces of round breakfast cereal. Meanwhile, rising sixth-graders made “glow sticks” by wiring strands of lights to batteries.

“It’s been so fun. I loved everything,” said rising sixth-grader Mercedes Pate.

Classmate Christian Holland agreed. “It’s been fun so far. Yesterday we were watching a video about astronauts and what’s really in space.” He also said he liked making balloon rockets.

“The kids have been very enthused,” said 21st Century Programs Coordinator Anne Stultz, who oversees the camp. “All the activities are related to STEM,” which stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

“They’re using the information that they’ve learned in the regular school year in science and math classes, and they’re able to apply that knowledge to all of the space activities they’re doing in SEMAA camp. That way, the kids will retain what they’ve learned when they start the next school year,” she said.

The activities also reinforced what are called 21st Century learning skills, or the skills that graduates will need to succeed in the workforce, “like collaboration, problem-solving, creative thinking and innovation,” Stultz said.

On Wednesday, rising first-graders had an edible lesson about the phases of the moon. They broke apart chocolate cookies, scraped off part of the icing, and glued them in a circle to illustrate how the moon appears at different times of the month. The leftover cookie pieces were quickly disappearing into students’ — and teachers’ — mouths.

“This is how the moon changes,” said Tyrone Spencer, pointing to his plate. “It rotates around the earth.”

Isabella Vanhoozer said her favorite part of SEMAA camp was “what we’re doing right now” with the cookies, especially “eating them!”

The campers did other moon-themed crafts, including decorating a paper “moon cake” after reading a book about a little bear who wants to travel to the moon and take a bite of it.

In another classroom, as classical music played in the background, rising second-graders were quiet and concentrating on painting miniature planets to make a mobile of Saturn. Teacher Lori Gongora said they had been learning the size and order of the planets in the solar system. They used objects like a cotton ball, chickpea, peppercorns and mustard seeds to demonstrate the relative sizes of the planets.

“They’ve got that about down pat already,” Gongora said. “They’re having a lot of fun.”

Speaking of her daughter, a rising fourth-grader at Patrick Henry Elementary, Gongora said, “Gigi told me this morning, ‘Mom, SEMAA camp is just way too short.’”

Rising fourth-graders on Wednesday were doing litmus tests on test tubes filled with mystery liquids like soap, lemon juice, and pond water. The campers had to determine if the substances were acidic or basic, then guess what they were.

Throughout the week, they also cared for worms they kept in the classroom in soil-filled containers.

“We’re doing worms in our containers, and we’re making compost,” said Montana Minter. She said she named her worms Alex, Joe, and Drake. “We weigh them each day and feed them half their body weight. They eat coffee grounds,” among other things, she said.

Rising fourth-grader Tinayah Spencer said her favorite part of SEMAA camp was “Doing the flowers and mixing sand and dirt, and looking at our worms.”

A big hit with students of all ages was the STEM Mobile Learning Lab visiting from Danville’s Institute of Advanced Learning and Research. Campers got to try out solar-powered toys, like a plastic cricket that would move when the light hit the solar panel on its back. Several rising second-graders shrieked and dropped the cricket when they felt it move.

“It tickles,” exclaimed Noah White.

On board the mobile learning lab, students also checked out everyday objects magnified hundreds of times under a ProScope handheld video microscope. The images of skin, hair, and clothing were projected on a flatscreen TV for everyone to see, eliciting cries of “cool!” and “eww!” in some cases.

While the camp served grades kindergarten through five, Martinsville High School students Julia Johnston and Claire Downing also were volunteering at the camp throughout the week to earn service-learning hours, which are a graduation requirement for all students.


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