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Creative Thinking is Focus of STEM Camp in Fayetteville

STEM Camp Scholars
STEM Camp Scholars - Lincoln County sixth and seventh graders who participated in recent STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Camps gather for a final photo. Top row, from left, Karen Hix of Shelbyville and Patrick Stone of Lynchburg assist Instructor Billy Hix conduct the camps at Motlow College's Fayetteville Center.

August 12, 2011

Motlow's Associate Professor Billy Hix willingly spends some of his vacation time each year to conduct STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) camps for area middle school students. This year marks the tenth anniversary of Hix conducting the STEM camps, which are paid for by an educational grant. He recently completed the last of his three-day camps at Motlow College's Fayetteville Center for some Lincoln County sixth and seventh grade students.

According to Hix, the hands-on teaching and learning experiences of the camps are slightly different than traditional classroom experiences. He calls it 'inquiry science' where there are minimal directions. The children are given tools or ingredients for experiments and projects but it is up to each individual or team to create their own design and figure their own path to a conclusion.

He said, "I would like to say that once again it is proven that young people are passionate about learning new things! Every day they showed their creativity and proved that they have received a solid foundation in math and science from their teachers during the school year."

The first day of camp each student is given a digital camera. They are taught to use it and how to download the pictures to a computer for a PowerPoint presentation they will create the final day of camp. If they learned nothing else besides these skills, the camp would be a huge success and very much worth each parent's time to deliver them to Motlow for three days. But that technology lesson doesn't scratch the surface of the learning experiences in store for them.

The students are inspired to have ideas, form hypothesis, create drawings and blueprints, test theories evaluate, reevaluate and redesign for every task. These skills are learned and honed as they build their own rocket and launch it; made coffee cream blow up and build heat shields to prevent a spot of glue from melting. In addition to all of the science experiments and lessons of why a crater on the moon is named after Tycho Brahe, the group travels to Huntsville, Ala. for a memorable tour of NASA's Space and Rocket Center.

Patrick Stone of Moore County and Karen Hix of Shelbyville, college students and aspiring teachers, assist Hix set up all the experiments and work one-on-one with each student. Other volunteers join in the efforts like Stacy Hearn, a fellow staff member at Motlow. Hearn accompanied the group to NASA on what ironically turned out to be the 42nd anniversary of Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon.  She said, "It is our greatest hope that these camps will ignite in these students a love of the STEM subjects. Maybe one day some of the best and brightest in the STEM fields will be able to look back and fondly remember their time at Motlow STEM camps."

In the final hour of the last day of camp over 45 parents and family members attended an awards or wrap-up session. They were treated to refreshments as they watched a slideshow presentation while their children received certificates and accolades for their work at camp. Hix also used the opportunity to encourage the parents to never let 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. learning be enough education for their children. He suggested they seek experiences to challenge their minds and to, "…help your teachers help prepare your children for today's global economy."

Hix summed up his STEM camp experience this summer by saying, "If I watch cable news enough, I would think that our future as a nation is in great peril - however, after spending three weeks with these wonderful students, you might realize that their future is in pretty good hands."

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