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Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Summer STEAM program lets kids explore science, technology

— A dragon that 10-year-old Bryant Atkeson created this week has battery-powered eyes that light up, an especially eerie feature when darkness descends.

The dragon breathes fire, too, though it’s a burn-free version constructed from orange and yellow pipe cleaners wound together.

Bryant, though, expressed the most pride over another part of the dragon as he applied the finishing touches on the creature Thursday morning during a session of the Pasco County school district’s STEAM camp at Gulf Highlands Elementary.

“Hey, I’m actually pretty good at making wings,” he said, adding several minutes later, “How about two sets of wings? Because it’s a dragon.”

Bryant, a rising fifth-grader at Gulf Highlands, is one of more than 30 students attending the 10-day STEAM camp, which draws its campers from Schrader, Gulf Highlands and Fox Hollow elementary schools.

STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math, a variation of the STEM educational push that schools throughout the country have incorporated.

The Pasco STEAM camp, in its first year, serves as a pilot program for possible greater things in the future. Camp teacher Melanie Weitz, who teaches at Anclote Elementary during the regular school year, said next year the plan is to expand the program so students from more schools can participate.

The school district also is looking at doing more with the STEAM concept than just making it a summer camp theme. In 2015, the district plans to launch a STEAM magnet program at Sanders Memorial Elementary in Land O’ Lakes.

Sanders, a school that’s more than 60 years old, was in such disrepair that the district closed and mostly demolished it a few years ago and now is rebuilding it.

At the summer camp, the students encounter the technology part of STEAM right away. They incorporate iPads into their camp assignments, using the tablets to photograph their work, type in information about their projects and answer questions about what they accomplished.

The students are split into two groups, rotating between lessons taught by Weitz and teacher Sophia James.

James works on the opposite side of the county, at Chester Taylor Elementary in Zephyrhills, but liked the concept of the STEAM camp so much she was willing to venture west for part of the summer.

“It was a great opportunity to help pilot this program, so I couldn’t turn that down,” James said.

She led the students as they used Legos to create a contraption with movable parts, such as gears or wheels.

Emin Podbicanin, 10, a fifth-grader from Schrader Elementary, designed a merry-go-round.

Emin, a potential future engineer, said the STEAM camp was a perfect place for him.

“I want to be a person who creates something,” he said. “I could make my own merry-go-round for my own kids.

In the “dragon-making room” with Weitz, students crafted wings out of construction paper and assembled small battery-powered kits that gave their dragons light-up eyes and a beeping sound that substituted for a roar.

Parts for those kits were kept in a row of plastic buckets. Students could dash over and grab a toggle switch, a mounting board, a coin battery or other necessity.

Some students worked solo. Others teamed up. Sophie Makris, Tayla Laliberte and Sabrina Tonello, all 10-year-old fifth-graders from Schrader Elementary, worked together on a dragon they said lived in a rain forest.

“This will be the sound of it,” Sophie said, flipping a switch that produced a long beep.

Bryant Atkeson said he likes the camp because of the technology aspect and the fact everyone seems to have a good time.

He also enjoys the worry-­free environment where he can experiment without fear of failing.

“I like that they don’t get mad at you because you make a mistake,” he said. “They just show you how to do it the right way.”

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