Students shoot for stars at science camp

Erin Jerome | The Daily Star 

Go STEM Institute coordinator Doug Reilly assists Tara Bookhout, 12, of Laurens with her rocket on the SUNY Oneonta baseball field Tuesday. 

A group of novice astronomers tinkered with their rockets Tuesday morning ahead of launches into a bright blue sky over the campus of the State University of New York at Oneonta.

The 18 middle-school students attending the GoSTEM summer institute camp shared scientific curiosities from robotics to astronomy, and are spending the week exploring the galaxy through lessons and activities on space and technology.

On Monday they took samples from a pond on campus and used the organisms under the microscope to spark a conversation about the atmosphere and signs of life on Mars. The group also practiced block coding on small drones and rovers in preparation of a “mission” to drop a payload on a foreign planet later in the week.

“Some of them have already done it, so they've been helping each other out,” consultant teacher Kaitlyn Woods said of the coding lessons.

The kids were shuffled into teams in the physical science classroom, where a list of “norms” on the whiteboard dictated appropriate- and scientific- behavior to consider all ideas, work together and analyze to achieve a consensus.

Tina Puwekeh, 12, an Oneonta Middle School student, said she wanted to come to the camp to escape summer doldrums and make new friends while learning about science. For 12-year-old Emily Brandt of Unatego, wondering at the Milky Way in the planetarium had been the best part of the week so far.

“One of the things they've been telling us is that they don't do much of this hands-on stuff anymore in school,” coordinator Doug Reilly said between helping students with their rocket starters.

Reilly, who runs the A.J. Read Science Discovery Center on campus, is taking over the camp in its eighth year from retired biology professor Bill Pietraface. Pietraface said that the CDO STEM organizers hope to add camps in Chenango and Delaware counties in the future.

After the rocket construction was finished, it was time to name them, at least for the science fiction fans.

“Do you know how to spell Enterprise?”

“She's never watched Star Trek!”

The careful assembly paid off on the campus baseball field with high-flying results. Later in the day, the group would again be maneuvering drone flights.

“We've been throwing some really challenging stuff at them and they've been powering through it,” Reilly said.

Erin Jerome, staff writer, may be reached at (607) 441-7221, or at ejerome@thedailystar.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DS_ErinJ .

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