If you’re walking the halls of Wilson K-8 and come across a stomp rocket launcher aimed at paper-crafted emulations of the Moon, Mars, Titan and Pluto, you know you’re nearing teacher Laurie Burrell’s summer STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) camp.

A look inside the classroom will only reassure you you’re in the right place — one that emphasizes providing hands-on engineering experience to students both in and out of the Amphitheater School District. 

Initiated by Amphi’s Chief Academic Officer Roseanne Lopez, STEAM is in its second summer. The four-day, 16-hour program is designed for second through fifth graders, and uses a modified curriculum developed by the Boston Museum of Science’s EIE (Engineering is Elementary) program, which aims to introduce engineering to students at a young age. 

Burrell also teaches the camp at Rio Vista Elementary.

“This is real engineering, which is hard to find for kids this age,” said Burrell, who has been teaching for 17 years, 11 of those at Wilson. 

As part of the camp, students are at the beginning of each day tasked with a challenge and given 20 minutes to complete it. In this year’s case, the initial project was to build a 10-inch tower using only index cards and masking tape.

The tower would then have to support the weight of a stuffed animal for 10 seconds to be considered “Skittle-worthy.”

Once the task is achieved, students move on to something more challenging, such as building a marble course that implements loop-the-loops and corkscrew turns. 

Many of the students in STEAM are part of the district’s gifted 

learning program, though not all.

“At times I’m challenged to find things that stump them,” said Burrell.

The highlight of the STEAM camp is the opportunity for students to build and launch a rocket using limited materials. 

Students must consider the rocket’s length, weight, trajectory, aerodynamics and launch pressure in order to get it to fly the distance of their pre-chosen destination — the aforementioned planets or moons, which are spaced according to their distance from Earth.

“It’s all about creating, designing, exploring and nudging their abilities in ways they’ve likely never had before,” said Burrell.

Fifth-grader Cale Squires, a member of the STEAM program and Burrell’s robotics club — one of seven after-school science clubs she teaches — has seen the benefits of hands-on engineering. Squires took fourth place in state this year for a robot he built and programmed.

“I really like building, and we got really close to state last year, and so I came back this year and we made it to state,” he said. 

“I got really excited to do it again and have the same team to see if we can go past state next year.”

Burrell will serve on the committee to help oversee the design of a new STEM building in the district, anticipated to come in 2018. Her passion for science comes from having worked as a medical microbiologist before deciding she wanted to pursue teaching. 

“I came to teaching because working with kids is a lot more fun than working with test tubes,” she said. “The pay isn’t as good, but you’re paid in hugs.”

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