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July 22, 2010 - 5:03pm

Middle-schoolers from all over the county came to Batavia Middle School on Tuesday for the "MST Explorer Camp" (see June 19 article for more information). The camp involved students in hands-on learning activities using math, science and technology.

A 13-year-old race car driver and Batavia Middle School student Val Stephens -- pictured center -- helps with a demonstration designed to give the kids a lesson in aerodynamics:

Kevin Raymond, a teacher in the Keshequa School District and a hot-air balloon enthusiast, talks to the kids about the type of energy that powers hot-air balloons. He shows them how they work, using an ultra-light balloon as an example (keep in mind that about 10 of these could fit into one of the larger ones):

June 19, 2010 - 2:02pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, technology, education, science, middle school, math, summer camps.

The Genesee County Business/Education Alliance (BEA) is holding the first of what they hope will be an annual summer camp this year. It's called the "MST Explorer Camp," and will engage middle-schoolers in hands-on activities related to careers in math, science and technology.

This is a first for BEA, which hosts a "MASH (Medical Academy of Science and Health) Camp" and a "Culinary Camp" every summer (see last month's announcement for more details on these and for pictures).

BEA Coordinator Melinda Chamberlin started planning the MST camp in the spring, along with Debbie Dunlevy, who works with GCC's Tech Prep Program, and Bob Hollwedel, a technology instructor at Alexander Middle School.

Clay Maderer, a technology teacher at Batavia Middle School and a member of the MST camp's development team, said that the idea arose, in part, from the success and popularity of GCC'S Tech Wars.

"We wanted to see that type of activity carry over into the summer," Maderer said.

Current job market trends, both in the Western New York area and in the nation as a whole, were also a factor.

"We hope this brings home to students the relevance of these subjects in the real world," Chamberlin said. "We also hope it shows them that math, science and technology can be cool and interesting."

All of BEA's camps are geared toward middle-schoolers. According to Chamberlin, those students are at a stage of development at which they can start to become passionate about certain subjects and find out what they like.

"They're at an age where you can really start to influence their career interests," she said. "That doesn't mean forcing them into anything, it just means that we can, and should, help them to become more well-informed about career choices (before they spend a lot of money on college)."

Although the MST has not been done before, the MASH and Culinary camps have both gotten great responses from students.

"They love it," Chamberlin said. "Some of them will even go from one camp to another."

The MST camp will include presentations given by professionals in a variety of different fields, exposing the kids to specific math, science and technology-related careers. For instance, representatives from Time Warner Cable will do a session on how the company delivers information to the world.

Additionally, a middle-school-age race car driver (along with others) will be there to help teach them about aerodynamics.

But these "instructors" are not just going to be feeding kids information, like in a stereotypical classroom setting. All of the planned activities are hands-on, so the students will be able to learn by direct, personal engagement.

Charles "Chip" Malone of Cornell Cooperative Extension will be in charge of an energy exhibit where the kids will try to activate various appliances -- including cell phones, lights and kitchen appliances -- by peddling stationary bicycles (thus generating an air current)...

"...which is really cool," Malone said. "They'll have a lot of fun with that."

The idea, according to Hollwedel, is to help them gain an "appreciation of how much energy the things they own use."

The kids will also work at designing their own bridges, modifying/adapting CO2 cars to run more efficiently and racing them to find out whose is the best.

MST is a one-day camp. There will be two sessions -- one on July 20 for boys, and another on July 21 for girls. Both sessions will be at Batavia Middle School, at 96 Ross St. in Batavia, and last from 7:45 a.m. until 4 p.m.

The decision to devote one day to each gender group was based on the observations of middle-school teachers and made for the benefit of the kids.

"Girls tend to be resistant in technology class," Hollwedel said, "because boys are stereotypically more inclined toward technology, tools, etc. So with guys around, the girls can become intimidated and afraid to try things on their own."

"If the camp were co-ed, the girls would be more likely to just go along with what the guys say," said Samantha Lippman, a science teacher at Alexander Middle School and a member of the MST development team. "This way they can work independently, pitch in and come up with their own ideas. And with all the hands-on activities, they'll be able to see that they can do it."

"What we want to do for both boys and girls," Chamberlin said, "is give them an opportunity to excel and to work without having to worry about intimidation or pressure."

The MST Camp is open to all students in Genesee County who will be entering grades 7, 8 and 9 in the fall. There is room for 11 more students, and registrations will be accepted until July 2.

There is a $25 admission fee to cover operating expenses and lunch for the students.

For details, call Chamberlin at 343-7440, ext. 25, or e-mail [email protected].

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