More of the robots wait for students to direct their paths across the library floor. When there were all in motion, campers and teachers had to tread carefully.

Job, School Connection Picks Up STEAM

There’s as much woo-hoo as how-to in science class this summer. At least when that science class is part of a county-wide initiative to encourage students from grades four and up to consider careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math.

“It’s really cool,” Carys Brownlee said of the elementary part of the county’s inaugural STEAM Camp, which took place in late June at Woodsdale Elementary. A similar camp for middle-school students was hosted at Wheeling Park High School earlier in the month. “I like everything here.”

At the time, she was piloting a small blue robot named Dewey across the media center carpet, using a tablet to control its movements, speed, sound effects and color flashes. Students were learning both how to maneuver the bots and do some of the block coding that makes them go.

Carys Brownlee, a rising fourth-grader from Woodsdale Elementary, operates Dewey, one of the robots used at an elementary-level Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) Camp offered by Ohio County Schools for the first time this June.

Brownlee, a rising fourth-grader from Woodsdale, said it’s too early to know what she wants to do as a career, though. “I’m still exploring.”

Sandra Wiseman, Woodsdale’s media and tech person and a coordinator of the camp, said that is exactly the point.

“They just know, at this point, that this is stuff they like to do,” said Wiseman, who is also a coordinator of the county’s Digital Media Festival. “Eventually, that may lead to, ‘I want to be a programmer or an engineer.’”

She said the nearly 70 elementary participants were experimenting with not only robots and coding, but basic chemistry, 3-D shapes, physics and even art.

Max Olejasz, a rising fifth-grader from Steenrod Elementary, bundles three markers in a claw-like configuration to cover the front of his shirt with a scratch pattern. The shirts were later sprayed to create a wearable demonstration of the capillary effect.

In the hallway, that meant one group was experimenting with small catapults. In one room, campers were making Platonic solids (3-D shapes) from straws. Another room was full of students making tie-dye style T-shirts – and learning about the capillary effect in the process.

Still another group was mixing up a gooey batch of super balls to find out what recipe makes for the best bounce. Hint: It doesn’t include glitter.

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Luka Swartz, left, a rising fifth-grader from West Liberty Elementary, and Alex Zhao, a rising fourth grader from Woodsdale Elementary, display some of the balls they created from Borax, glue, water and other ingredients. The STEAM camp group found super balls that contained glitter might have been sparkly but did not have the same bounce as their plainer cousins.

Trina Pissos, a county substitute teacher, led the group in speculating as to why that might be. One boy suggested it had something to due with friction. Pissos did not confirm or deny and the discussion continued — vigorously.

“This is my first time making these,” said Pissos, who seemed as enthusiastic as the kids. “They are awesome.”

So awesome she was almost having to fight students to keep the balls at the school, where they were to be displayed in a showcase for parents and school officials at the end of the weeklong camp. Going with the camp theme, coordinator Wiseman said the students would also be making ice cream in baggies to serve at that event on Friday, June 29.

Gabe Larance, a rising sixth-grader from Triadelphia Middle School, left,
and Ian Minor, a rising sixth-grader from Wheeling Middle School, work on block coding using tablets

Wiseman added she expects to see more such programming as the county continues to link education to employment opportunities. She noted the system has hired three innovation coordinators to manage this shift.

JoJo Shay, the head of these coordinators, agreed that where the jobs are is important.

Sierra Mattson, a STEAM camp teacher, introduces students to 3-D shapes they would be constructing. “Remember, this isn’t graded,” she told them, displaying a complex figure. “We’re here to have fun.”

“It will pervade our professional development and instructional decision making,” Shay said. She added students will need certain, “knowledge, skills and dispositions,” no matter what job or career they pursue.

She hopes field-exploratory camps will grow in coming years. This year, “students with A’s or B’s in math and science and who received a teacher recommendation for the camp were invited to attend.” The camps were funded by the school system, with transportation provided, as well.

Nora Edinger writes from Wheeling, W.Va., where she is part of a three-generation, two-species household. A long-time journalist, she now writes in a variety of print and e-venues, including her JOY Journal blog at Her first work of fiction, a Christian beach read called “Dune Girl,” is available on Amazon Kindle.