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SEMAA camp makes science lessons fun
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A Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy (SEMAA) camp drew nearly 300 students to Patrick Henry Elementary School last week. Above (from left), Ni Jel Gravely, Olivia Hankins, Caroline Phillips and Tristan Richardson show wiggling worms they used for a project in teacher Elizabeth Lynch’s class. (Bulletin photo by Paul Collins)
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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Rising fifth-graders Annessia Reynolds and Jahnavia Hairston were among the students in Donna White’s class who went on a treasure hunt last week on the grounds of Patrick Henry Elementary School.

Whether the students realized it or not, the real prize wasn’t the candy that lay hidden under brush, but learning how to use a compass.

The treasure hunt was part of Martinsville City Public Schools’ NASA SEMAA camp this week at PHES for students in grades K-5. SEMAA stands for Science, Engineering, Math and Aerospace Academy.

“I didn’t know SEMAA camp was going to be this fun,” Jahnavia said. “Mrs. White is a great teacher.”

This was Jahnavia’s first time learning to use a compass, she said.

Annessia had used one before, but the treasure hunt helped her understand better, she said.

Another camp highlight for Annessia was making rockets and learning about gravity and Newton’s laws of motion, she said.

In another class, teacher Elizabeth Lynch’s students were learning about feeding, growing and weighing worms, and making compost.

Lynch said one of her students, Tristan Richardson, researched and found that the type of worm they were using is Eisenia fetida. Tristan is a rising fourth-grader at Albert Harris Elementary.

“Worms are a special part of nature,” Tristan said as he looked for several of the creatures in a container of potting soil so that he could weigh them.

Lynch explained that the worms eat half their body weight daily. Students were feeding them organic waste, such as coffee grounds, as well as bits of apple and potato, Lynch and students said.

The coffee grounds also make the worms very alert, Lynch said, which drew a laugh from Anne Stultz, camp director and MCPS’ coordinator of advanced learning and STEM programming.

Camper Jalik Blackwell, a rising fourth-grader at Albert Harris, said later that he likes working with worms. “It’s fun. They’re slimy, and you can feel them,” he said.

In teacher Mark Toole’s class, students were completing an electric circuit, connecting a strand of Christmas lights to a 9-volt battery.

After finishing her work, Kimoni Draper shaped her strand of glowing Christmas lights into a ring and put it on top of her head.

“I want it to look like a crown,” said Kimoni, a rising sixth-grader at Laurel Park Middle School in Henry County. The camp was not limited to city students.

In another part of the school, Noah White, son of teacher Donna White, was gluing pieces of Kix cereal to his drawing of Cassiopeia, a constellation in the northern sky. The pieces of cereal represented stars.

Cassiopeia was a queen in Greek mythology who boasted about her beauty.

Noah said he chose Cassiopeia because she was a queen and “she tells people to do stuff.”

Stultz said, “Everything we do is STEM activities.” STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

Campers do hands-on activities that apply what they learned during the school year, she added.

Stultz said activities, depending on grade level, included:

• Making solar ovens out of such things as pizza boxes, aluminum foil and clear plastic, and baking S’mores.

• Studying and making moon phases (such as half moon and crescent moon) by biting cookies in the particular shape.

• Studying the solar system, making planets with plastic foam balls and measuring the distance between planets on a scale.

• Exploring what are the best materials to use for cleaning water by filtering water through such things as sand, gravel and cotton gauze.

• Studying photosynthesis — the process by which plants make carbohydrates from light and air — by seeing how coating one or both sides of leaves with Vaseline affects the amount of water that escapes.

• Doing engineering challenges.

In the school gym, students got their pictures made at a head-in-the-hole rocket photo prop.

In all, nearly 300 students attended the camp, most of them during the 9 a.m. to noon session, Stultz said. An alternate session ran from 1-4 p.m. Bus transportation and snacks were provided,

“They (the campers) love it. They are enthused. They can’t wait to get to school,” Stultz said. “They love hands-on lessons.”

“What I enjoy is seeing kids loving to learn,” she added.

This is the fourth or fifth summer of the camp, which gets bigger every year due to word of mouth, Stultz said.

Some students call her “Mrs. SEMAA,” she added.

Eighteen teachers and 16 aides worked at the camp, Stultz said. It ends today.


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