Eagerly standing behind the yellow caution tape Tuesday, a group of middle school students found out what happens when you melt dry ice in a sealed plastic bottle.
Three Kealakehe High School students, all wearing protective eyewear, tossed the bottle behind a blast shield and scurried behind the tape. Their presence warned onlookers that something big was about to happen on the gravel lot. Seconds later, there was a loud boom, followed by a cloud of dust and smoke.
The audience laughed, cheered and begged for another explosion. The older students agreed, but the group would have to wait until after lunch.
This demonstration was part of the weeklong Kona STEM Camp — an exciting educational experience that whetted elementary and middle school students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, while also helping prepare them for success in the 21st century. High technological skills are required building blocks of many jobs today and STEM will continue to play a big role in Hawaii’s future, said Justin Brown, Kealakehe’s Career and Technical Education coordinator and Robotics Team head coach.
The goal was to engage the participating campers in STEM and expose them early while also inspiring them toward extraordinary careers in various sectors and allowing them to work with area professionals. One hundred fifteen students in third through eighth grade from 20 West Hawaii schools signed up and inquiries continued to come in Monday, the first day of event, Brown said.
The camp was created by the Kealakehe Robotics Team, also known as the Tiki Techs. Team members were inspired by several NASA-run programs on the mainland and summer robotics camps in East Hawaii they’ve experienced. Such events are valuable not only for helping achieve academic ambitions, but also to dream up creative solutions or possibilities. This is also a way for the Robotics Team to give back to the community in a meaningful way while on fall break and have a direct positive benefit, said Taylor Quanan, a 16-year-old Kealakehe senior and project leader.
Quanan initially came up with the project after discovering the lack of STEM learning opportunities in West Hawaii.
“Growing up in Hilo, I saw a lot of opportunities in STEM fields in elementary school. When I moved to Kona, those experiences did not seem as present to me,” she said. “I wanted to bring those opportunities to the students here in West Hawaii. I want them to know there’s no reason to be afraid of STEM, and you don’t have to be an Einstein to enjoy these fields. I hope this camp encourages them to embrace and have fun with STEM.”
The Robotics Team began planning and organizing the camp last year. More than 50 team members volunteered as camp leaders or counselors. Those involved helped gather resources, find industry presenters, do marketing and handle logistics. Many also had to learn how to teach inductively, do flexible problem-solving, create engaging experiences and figure out how to be successful regardless of the circumstances, Brown said.
The camp was slightly affected the federal government shutdown, which resulted in cancellations of presenters from the U.S. Geological Survey and resources from NASA being unavailable. Fortunately, other presenters from The Kohala Center, Institute for Astronomy, American Institute of Architecture and Civil Defense were able to step in and be of even greater assistance, Brown said.
The camp featured astronomy, marine science, industrial design, geology, architecture, robotics and video game design. Each day was filled with hands-on learning activities. This included building structures that can withstand natural disasters, operating a telescope in Africa and getting live images from space, investigating tide pools and creating the perfect claw arm machine for the robot rumble.
The campers will demonstrate what they’ve learned at a mini science fair planned from 2 to 5 p.m. today inside the Kealakehe High School cafeteria, where light refreshments will be served. Teams of students, who have spent the week building task-oriented robots, will also compete in tests of agility, effectiveness and accuracy of movement during a task-based competition. The public is invited to attend the event.
Schools that had six campers or more will receive a robotics kit, worth $500. The hope is that students will be able to build upon their STEM foundation and that the donated equipment will help schools start or enhance robotics program, Brown said.
Twelve-year-old Deja Logan called the camp inspiring. The seventh-grader at Innovations Public Charter School said the experience has deepened her imagination and proved that everyone has the ability to innovate or create something worthwhile.
“Innovators can be of all ages,” she said.
Logan especially enjoyed the first day of camp, when the Stanford University Design Thinking Lab was introduced. Campers got greater insight into how designers view the world, where everything is negotiable, malleable or improvable, and how through this process, they’re able to create products that often make enormous impacts on our lives. She said it was fun tackling a real problem, thinking outside of the box and exploring all ideas. “It makes you think about what’s possible,” she added.