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Math teacher Stacy Hinz confers with Andrew Kotz, 13, (left) and Isaiah Williams, 10, on the design of their “eggstronaut” landing craft during STEM Summer Camp at East Ridge High School. The weeklong workshop gave students the chance to apply the principles of math, physics and science in the construction of miniature rockets, bridges and catapults. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)

Summer scientists: Students combine fun and science at STEM camp

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Science teacher Jamie Kirchner stood on a ladder. In her hand she dangled a sort of miniature space capsule made from two red plastic cups joined together.

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She counted down — “Three, two, one!” — and let it drop.

Twelve-year-olds Rachel Lindahl and Kolbe Bachman, who had designed the “landing craft,” watched anxiously as it hit the concrete with a muted “thunk.”

The two scurried over and pulled the cups apart to check on their fragile passenger, a single white raw egg.

The “eggstronaut” had survived the impact in one piece.

“It’s alive!” exclaimed Rachel, who lives in Cottage Grove.

The egg drop was one of several competitions among budding young engineers in STEM summer camp at East Ridge High School. The workshop, which ran June 23-27, is part of the South Washington Community Education program. During each daily four-hour class, students built, tested and fixed their own contraptions using the STEM principles of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The students attend elementary and middle schools throughout District 833.

The scene resembled an arts and crafts class as seven two-person teams hunched over tables scattered with the kind of stuff that’s usually found in a kitchen junk drawer: string, paper plates, tape, plastic bags and straws. The difference was that the stuff they made had to work, whether it was a bridge or catapult.

The kids were guided by a trio of facilitators, including math teachers Stacy Hinz and David Donnelly. They made sure to remind the students of the scientific concepts in play, such as gravity, trajectory or force. For the most part, however, it was up to the kids how they wanted to use the materials, said Hinz, who teaches math at Oltman Middle School.

“‘We say, ‘Here’s a lot of stuff. Here’s what you need to do. Go to it,’” she said.

“It teaches them the design process,” said Donnelly, who teaches math at Woodbury Middle School.

For example, a toy balloon provided to each student team for the “eggstronaut” competition might be used as a parachute to slow the descent of their ship. Others chose to use it as padding to soften the landing. 

“You get to learn about teamwork,” said Andrew Kotz, 13, of Woodbury, as he and partner Isaiah Williams, 10, neared completion of their egg’s landing craft. “We get to do a lot of stuff on our own.”

The boys also said it teaches them about not giving up.

“The straws will act as shock absorbers on the bottom,” Andrew said, pointing to a particular design feature.

Before going outside to test their handiwork, Isaiah, of Woodbury, drew a face on their egg.

“This is Fred,” he said. “And he’s going to be dead.”

His prediction turned out to be true. Fred was scrambled in the first round.

Rachel and Kolbe were one only two teams who managed to keep their egg intact through two rounds. They tied for first place with Roby Graff, 9, of Cottage Grove, and Valentina Borrero, 14, of Woodbury.

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