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Explore Camp offers new ways for students to learn
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Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School students Austin Hurd (left) and Lane Ashworth (center) demonstrate their robotic drag racer as Henry County Schools’ Explore Camp director Melany Stowe looks on at Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Fireballs were coming out of the mouth of the mother dragon, but Emily Essary couldn’t figure out exactly how to manipulate Mama to rescue her babies from demons who had kidnapped them.

However, by the next day of Henry County Public Schools’ Explore Camp, Emily had figured out the necessary programming steps in the computer game “Evil Clutches,” she recalled. Emily, a rising sixth-grader at Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School, said she learned through trial and error.

“Scratch, App Inventor and Game Maker — Oh My!” (computer games) was one of the classes offered at the eighth annual Explore Camp. Others included “LEGO Robotics; Games! Games! Games!” (physical activities and games); “Green Thumb Etc.” (horticulture and agriculture); “Broadway Bound” (singing and dancing); “Fishing; Digital Scapbooking;” and “21st Century Art” (making art out of recyclable materials).

The approximately 170 rising fourth through eighth-graders in the camp each signed up for one of the classes, which either were career or hobby-related, said Melany Stowe, director of the camp and the school division’s coordinator of parent and community outreach. The camp ran from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday last week and concluded with a trip to Virginia Tech last Friday to encourage students to attend college after graduation, Stowe said.

There was no admission fee, and the school division provided bus transportation to F-C Middle from several schools, Stowe said.

“There are no textbooks. Everything is hands-on,” Stowe said at the camp Thursday. “The camp takes a constructivist approach to learning,” she said, adding that involves “the 5 Es:” engage, explain, elaborate, explore and evaluate.

She said she enjoyed seeing the children come to the camp with smiles on their faces and happy to be there.

Donna Hicks, the school division’s curriculum specialist for high schools/ gifted coordinator, taught the computer games class in which students learned computer programming skills. “This is really high level stuff” for kids of this age group, she said.

Josh Landon, a rising sixth-grader at F-C Middle, said, among other things, that in “Scratch” he programmed a cat do such things as move 10 steps, meow, play a drum and talk using a cartoon-like bubble.

Josh said from the programming skills he learned in the class, he thinks he might be able to make another video game.

“I am blown away by what they have been able to accomplish,” Hicks said of her students.

Melissa Blair, Bassett High School physical education teacher and girls basketball coach, and Jennifer Gunter, PE teacher at Drewry Mason Elementary, together taught “Games! Games! Games!” Blair said the 27 children in the class participated in “lifetime games,” such as bowling, archery and putt-putt; relay games and pin or dodge ball; and basketball. Sportsmanship and attitude were stressed, she added.

“I love doing archery,” said Elizabeth Stone, a rising seventh-grader at F-C Middle School. She said she had never tried it before and hopes to do it in the future.

At one point, Blair divided students into groups in a relay race in which they ran the length of a basketball court, balanced an object on a cone, and if the object fell off before they returned to the finish line, they had to go back to the cone and try to balance the object again.

In “Green Thumb,” several children explained how they made a pizza box solar oven and cooked S’mores in it. They lined the inside of the lid of the box with aluminum foil, used clear plastic wrap to create an airtight window for sunlight to enter the box and lined the inside bottom of the box with black construction paper (black absorbs heat). Sunlight reflected off the aluminum-covered lid, which was pointed toward the sun, and passed through the clear plastic into the oven interior.

Students in the class also made wooden napkin holders. The work involved sanding, drilling holes and finishing. Students said they planned to give their napkin holders to their dads (some for Father’s Day, one for dad’s birthday) or to display them.

Cameron Blankenship and Victoria Mitchem, rising seventh-graders at F-C Middle; Carlee Ashworth, a rising fourth-grader at Axton Elementary; and Brianna Millner, a rising sixth-grader at Laurel Park Middle, indicated they had fun doing the projects.

The class also took a trip to the Virginia Museum of Natural History, according to instructors Donna Kaczor and Champ Hardie, agricultural teachers at Laurel Park Middle.

In the robotics class, rising eighth-grader Lane Ashworth and seventh-grader Austin Hurd, both from Laurel Park Middle school, said they enjoyed building and programming robots to drag race. Lane said he put three motors on the back and reduced the weight on the front to make the robot move faster.

Instructor Nathan Reeves, a technology teacher at Laurel Park, said students also built and programmed robots to play tabletop putt-putt.

Henry County Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton said the camp was a “great opportunity” for students to explore and develop interests and passions.


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