WIND POINT — The excitement was palpable in a classroom of the Prairie School as student teams of two or three raced to capture dinosaurs littered about the room Friday morning.
Although they were just programming simple robots to move around obstacles and touch toys, the students hurriedly worked on their task of capturing the creatures amid a drone of chatter, punctuated by occasional outcries of triumph or disappointment.
The activity was part a of week-long Summer STEM Academy program put on by the Center for Developing Excellence at the Prairie School, 4050 Lighthouse Drive.
The summer camp is designed to give students hands-on learning experiences in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and enrollment has grown from about 20 students when it started four years ago to more than 100 now, according to Larry Jozwik, executive director of the CDE.
He said the point of the program is not to get students to remember facts for tests, but to spur them to find creative solutions to problems.
“This program is about thinking, not memorization,” Jozwik said. “Those are the skills in today’s world they’re going to need as they go into a technological, advanced society.”
Activities besides programming robots included water testing on the Root River, GPS-navigated scavenger hunts, and demonstrations of handling radio controlled aircrafts, Jozwik said.
Science for all
While building his robot with two other students, Dylan Pyburn, 12, of Antioch, Illinois, said he enjoys working with other people on engineering projects, particularly the satisfaction of a job well done.
“I like having this finished project and thinking that you built that,” he said.
As the program has grown, teacher Terry Graham said there has been a positive trend of more girls getting involved with STEM activities and, hopefully, going to careers in historically male-dominated fields of science and engineering.
“A lot of times, girls don’t think of themselves as scientists, but they are – everybody is a scientist,” she said.
The summer academy will continue this week with new groups of students. Although registration is now closed, more information about the program is available at www.cdestem.com.