After pandemic hiatus, STEM Camp returns to MTHS

Mountlake Terrace High School computer science teacher Brandon Owings helps campers with their aim and keeps them stocked with tennis balls for ammo.

You might say that middle school students attending the recent STEM Camp at Mountlake Terrace High School had a ball.

Launching tennis balls via slingshots as part of an Angry Birds game was among the activities offered to seventh- and eighth-grade students during last week’s two-day camp. It was the first time the camp had been held since 2019, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The MTHS STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Camp began in 2014 to expose middle schoolers to the STEM courses they may find in high school. The camp also serves as a fundraiser for the school’s STEM clubs. The proceeds are split between the Rocketry Club, Health Occupations Students of America, the Robotics Club, the VEX Robotics team, STEM Leadership, the school’s e-sports team called The Rocket Hawks, and the MTHS chapter of the Washington Technology Student Association. (Terrace has the largest TSA chapter in the state.)

The money raised will pay for items such as the e-sports team jerseys, supplies for the TSA, and a new motor for the Rocketry Club.

While STEM teachers oversee the camp, it is run by members of the school’s clubs. Armed with walkie-talkies, student counselors worked with the campers and set up the activities.

The counselors executed their tasks with the precision their future careers would require. Bryan Selcer, the high school’s STEM department head, credits the smooth efficiency to the team’s dry run before the event.

“All the counselors are students from our science clubs,” Selcer said. “They’re running the show and doing a great job.”

One of the games offered during STEM Camp on Thursday was Patient Zero. Participants used chemistry to find out who had first exposure to a chemical. The game was a fun “whodunit” mystery and exposed the middle schoolers to biology and chemistry sciences.

Campers poured an amount of their liquid into another camper’s liquid, and so on. Through chemical analysis, they can determine who had the first exposure.

Campers build to their hearts’ content at the Creation Station during the MTHS STEM Camp.

Another activity was the aptly named Creation Station. The room was packed with kids making capes, headpieces from pipe cleaners and wood crafts, using the classroom’s hand tools and hot glue guns.

Overseeing the shop was Mountlake Terrace High School engineering teacher James Wilson.

“We allow them to make whatever they want, except weapons, of course,” Wilson said. “It’s great to see what they come up with.”

The group moved outside, where wood frames were built into giant slingshots that launched tennis balls for the Big Angry Birds activity.

Camp counselors were willing to put their bodies on the line for science education as targets for the campers during the Big Angry Bird activity.

The targets were about 50 yards away from the slingshots toward the middle of the school’s field. Structures were made of stacked cardboard boxes, and large green inflatable rubber balls represent the pigs from the Angry Birds video game. Among the boxes were counselors to provide moving targets.

Each camper was given two chances to hit a target before relinquishing the slingshot to the next one in line. Brandon Owings, a computer science teacher who coaches the e-sports team and advises the robotics and VEX clubs, oversaw the firing line.

Owings directed the campers to use the first ball to test the distance and angle of release they would need to hit their target.

“We don’t want to overload them with math above their level,” Owings said. “Plus, this is fun.”

The STEM Magnet Program at Mountlake Terrace High School is an Edmonds School District choice program providing STEM studies and learning experiences. Through this program, students will graduate proficient and engaged in the STEM disciplines while being prepared and inspired to pursue STEM-related studies in college.

Learn more about the STEM Magnet Program at Mountlake Terrace by clicking here.

— Story and photos by Rick Sinnett

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