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Middle School Camp Offers A Medley Of Engaging Activities

Images of student-deigned LED lights

Where can a middle schooler make gummy bears, plan a city on Mars, view plant life on the microscopic level, build an LED lamp, and learn about fractals in nature? The answer is the ACS STEAM Stew IV virtual summer camp!  

During the first week of August, 26 middle school students from the Great Lakes Bay and surrounding regions participated virtually in the ACS STEAM Stew IV Summer Camp. 

The camp, sponsored by the Midland Section of the American Chemical Society and MSU St. Andrews, offered five days of fun, hands-on lessons covering silicones, microscopy, plant toxicology, tessellations, bioplastics, science ethics, Mars, fractals, 3D printing, and the effect of light on interior design.

Each student received a box with all the supplies needed for the hands-on activities during the week, along with a variety of giveaways. The camp was free and sessions occurred 9-12 each day, with offline activities as well.

Image of homemade gummy bears.
Homemade gummy bears made during the week. Each camper was given supplies and a hands-on lesson about bioplastics!

The week kicked off with sessions presented by camp organizer and retired biochemist, Gina Malczewski from the Midland Section of the American Chemical Society, during which she guided campers through lotion-making, experiments with treated and untreated sands, and a longer-term study with radish seeds to measure the toxic effects of various household chemicals on germination.  Later in the week the students made gummy bears and edible water pods in their quest to learn more about bioplastics in another session with Gina.

It was really gratifying to see that across a wide variety of topics, the students were willing to try new things and continue learning remotely after a challenging school year,” Gina remarked. “I’m very grateful to all the partners that contributed to the success of the camp.

Additionally, faculty from the Michigan State University Museum and the Michigan State University Abrams Planetarium hosted sessions about Mars and what the future might hold for exploration and habitation. The week included an in-depth session on urban planning and what humans may need to thrive and survive on Mars. Students were encouraged to create their city and share their unique ideas. 

During a session on light, color, and patterns, campers designed a paper light fixture with a LED multi-color strip and patterned paper designed from microscopic images.

To ensure the camp covered a variety of STEAM topics, experts from Central Michigan University representing  Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the Department of Library Research and Instruction Services, and the Department of Fashion, Interior Design, and Merchandising were all enlisted to cover specific topics. 

MSU St. Andrews faculty were also on hand for a fun and informative session on fractals in nature as well as two sessions on 3D printing. This summer, the sessions on 3D printing added an element of altruism by inviting guest speaker, Mark Lyon, Great Lake Bay region’s chapter leader of Makers Making Change, an international organization that connects people with disabilities to volunteer makers to build assistive technologies.  Mark shared how 3D printing is making a significant impact on the manufacture and affordability of assistive devices for those in need.  Each camper personalized an assistive device of their choice. Makers Making Change will gift the devices to local schools and nursing homes. 

Each camper had the opportunity to personalize an assistive device with an inspirational message. The Makers Making Change organization will distribute the devices to schools and nursing homes in the Great Lakes Bay region.

The whirlwind week ended with group sessions where the kids worked together to solve puzzles that focused on the concepts and vocabulary they learned throughout the week. One puzzle even required students to “brush on” a reagent used in an earlier experiment to reveal the final clue!

We are also grateful to our sponsors Michigan State University and the Midland Section of the American Chemical Society, the latter funded by Nexteer Automotive, Hemlock Semiconductor Operations, LLC, and the Saginaw Community Foundation.

Several campers shared comments about their experience this summer:

The camp was very interactive and informative! I loved the experiments!” Camper – 6th grade

I loved making the lotion!” Camper – 8th grade

I liked experimenting with the different chemicals.” Camper – 8th grade

We learned by doing hands-on experiments, so we understand it better.”  Camper – 8th grade

We can learn about toxicology and experiment with different amounts if chemicals in the water for the radish seeds. “Camper – 6th grade

I learned how bioplastics work.” Camper – 8th grade

I liked the simulations of the solar system.” Camper 8th grade

It was interesting to learn about city planning.” Camper 7th grade.

I learned about an area of Geometry I have not learned yet.” Camper 6th grade

It was fun to see the fractals on a snowflake.” Camper, 8th grade