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STEM at Mini 4-H Day Camp

by Rob Burgess - rburgess@wabashplaindealer.com

The gymnasium of the Emmanuel Christian School was alive with the sounds of excited children and buzzing robots Tuesday.

Students from kindergarten through second grade took part in the annual Mini 4-H Day Camp, which this year focused on robots and technology.

Hannah Spaulding, summer assistant for the Purdue Extension Wabash County, organized this year’s camp. She said the event gives children who participate in Mini 4-H a taste of what they can expect when they are able to join starting in third grade.

“4-H touches on every single subject area,” she said.

Different stations around the room provided examples of different age-appropriate activities which involved STEM; which stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

At one end, campers steered Wonder Workshop robots using an iPad and simple coding.

Another group used a computer attached to a circuit board, called “Makey Makey,” to work a small piano by attaching alligator clips into Play-Doh.

At the table next to that, older 4-Hers who were part of the Junior Leaders’ Teens as Teachers biotechnology team were demonstrating how to extract DNA from strawberries.

Ella Conley, 7, a student at Manchester Elementary School, was one of the campers who was using a system called Bloxels Builder to create her own video game. In front of her on the table sat a black board with a built-in grid in which she placed small colored blocks. Once she was finished, she took a picture of the finished configuration with the iPad, which instantly created the game.

“Yellow means you got more coins,” she said. “The green, it makes sure you don’t fall. It’s the grass. The pink launches you to help you go up and get the coins.”

Her words were nearly drowned out by work of the children at the table next to her, who were was using magnets to build basic circuits. The devices emitted a high-pitched sound when completed.

At the far end of the room, campers built their own cars powered by the air inside balloons which pushed them across the floor when they blew them up and let go.

Outside the building, older 4-Hers had been demonstrating drones during the morning session.

“The kids have been really enjoying all the different stations,” said Spaulding.

Angela Christopher, 4-H Extension educator for youth development and extension director, said the Wabash Community Foundation provided a grant to purchase a most of the robots and technology at the camp, and that the Wabash County 4-H Council covered the cost of all the other equipment. In addition, Emmanuel Christian School provided use of the facility free of charge.

Christopher said the theme of this year’s camp was especially important, as the group placed more of an emphasis on STEM.

“The greatest job-growth in the future is showing in STEM-related careers,” she said. “4-H is really about meeting the needs of the times. … A lot of people think of us animals only. … But, there is so much more about 4-H that people don’t even know.”

Christopher said once Mini 4-Hers are able to join in third grade, they would have plenty of opportunities to continue their STEM educations with clubs focusing on robotics, tractor maintenance, and electricity.

“It’s fabulous. It amazes me,” she said. “I’ve had 4-H members who are part of the electric club come and work on the electric at my house before.”