The students zigged and zagged across the lawn, trying to make it to the tree designated as a boundary while their teachers, running backwards, tried to tag them in a game of Astronauts and Aliens.
What looked like a variation of the game Sharks and Minnows on the lawn on the east side of Custer Hall at Fort Hays State University on Wednesday was actually a lesson in space science.
The afternoon session, taught by Hays Middle School science teachers Nathan and Margaret Purdue, focused on three concepts:
• position, or one’s location
• velocity, a change in position over time
• acceleration, change in speed.
In several rounds, the astronaut students tried to avoid being tagged by the teachers and student teacher aliens by changing those variables. In one round, the astronauts could only speed-walk while the aliens could run. In another, the astronauts bear-crawled across the grass while the aliens crab-walked. In another round, Nathan Purdue asked the students to demonstrate an increase in acceleration over one-third of the way to their goal of the trees on the opposite end, zero acceleration in the next third, and a decrease in acceleration in the final third.
Back inside the Tiger’s Den in the basement of Custer Hall, they started to put those concepts together in graphs and discussion about the differences in gravity between Earth and Mars.
It required a little bit of math from the nine students.
“As I tell my seventh-graders, science is just math with a purpose,” Nathan Purdue told the kids.
This week’s Adventures in Science Space Camp is just one of a series a camps offered by the FHSU Science and Mathematics Education Institute this summer. Morning sessions are for grades four to six and afternoon sessions for grades six to eight. Other camps cover robotics, math and coding.
The camps are taught by area teachers and FHSU faculty.
The final camp, June 24 to 27, is Tigerfleet Academy, in which students will learn about spaceships, the life of an astronaut and will build a robotic space model.
The space theme this year is in honor of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, when man first walked on the moon.
The camps were started about 10 years ago with a math camp for middle-school age girls, Paul Adams, dean of the college of education, said.
After a couple of summers, the camps were expanded to reach a wider and younger audience.
“We realized that maybe we need to start working with kids earlier in their life to get them interested or at least appreciative of what the STEM world had to offer,” Adams said.
The camps are funded mainly by one donor, Adams said, who wished to remain anonymous.
“We’ve been fortunate to have a donor who actually gave us some initial support for girls’ math and science camps, and she’d asked if we would expand it after we showed her the numbers,” he said.
Civic groups in Hays have also donated to the camps, which has helped keep the costs for enrolling at $55 per camper. Private donations also provide some scholarships for campers. All the camps are full for this summer.
In addition, the institute has also received grants from the National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program to fund student workers for the camps. That gives freshman and sophomore education majors an idea of what being in a classroom is like.
“It’s really helped us and helped prospective teachers. Secondary science and math teachers are hard to come by, so we want to give them that experience so when they make that decision they know it’s the right decision for them,” Adams said.