Kids explore space at camp

July 7, 2011


From stargazing to trying “astronaut food,” more than 200 Martinsville students took a virtual trip through space last week in NASA SEMAA summer camp.

SEMAA, which stands for Science, Engineering, Math and Aerospace Academy, is a program based at Martinsville Middle School that uses NASA lesson plans and technology to get students in kindergarten through eighth grade interested in studying science, engineering, technology and math. Martinsville Schools hosts the only SEMAA lab in Virginia, one of 16 in the country.

The free summer camp for elementary and middle school students, held at Albert Harris Elementary School, wrapped up Friday.

“We’ve done a lot of fun, hands-on science this week,” said SEMAA Site Director Anne Stultz. “They’ve learned a lot about the planets, as well as earth science and math. Camp reinforces what they learned during the school year, and hopefully this will help them retain it over the summer.”

“Houston, we have a problem,” joked teacher Lizzy Keatts last week as she and Martinsville Middle School student Harrison Toole tried to launch a small rocket for a crowd of eager campers. Then, in a cloud of smoke, the rocket shot high up into the sunlight, prompting loud cheers from the younger students in the audience.

Keatts also made a “Coke rocket” and demonstrated a reaction by dropping a roll of Mentos mints into a bottle of Diet Coke. It caused the soda to foam and shoot straight up out of the bottle, much to the delight of the students.

“I like everything about it,” rising seventh-grader Tre Davis said about SEMAA camp. “We learn about rockets. I like building stuff and engineering.”

Tre’s group of middle school campers designed and made different kinds of paper gliders and then threw them down the hallway to see whose traveled the farthest.

One of his favorite activities, Tre said, was watching video footage of astronauts in space. “I like watching how they eat and move and get around when there’s no gravity,” he said.

Rising third-grade campers tried their own zero-gravity activity, making “space food” by crushing together graham crackers, peanut butter and honey. Then, they snipped a hole in a plastic bag and slurped the mixture out to mimic how astronauts eat their meals in space.

“It’s yummy. I want to make it again,” said Erin Mitchell.

Students were asked why they think astronauts have to eat their food through a straw.

"Because there’s no gravity,” Erin said. “If you had a plate in space, food would just float up.”

Rising third-grader Alexis Plunkett said one of her favorite activities was the STARLAB, a portable planetarium dome that let all the campers see the constellations firsthand. They also learned about the Greek myths that gave the constellations their names, about the earth’s rotation and about the planets in the Milky Way galaxy.

First-graders made a “universe in a jar” using blue food coloring and glitter to mimic the stars, while second-graders drew a model of the solar system on the sidewalk and made sunprints on special photographic paper. Fourth-graders grew crystals from salt and looked at them using microscopes. Each fourth-grader also had a container of worms, which they weighed, fed and cared for during the week.

Christian Holland said he really enjoyed learning about the worms. “They provide oxygen and nutrients for the plants,” he said. “They sleep here in the dirt and eat 2 grams a day.”

Students fed their worms dirt and fruit. Christian said he named his worms “Accelerate, because they’re fast.”

Editor’s note: Kim Barto is community outreach and grants coordinator for the city schools.


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