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News from 2023-2024

Posted: July 11, 2023

APS Summer Steam Program all About Sparking Imaginations

Close to 200 middle schoolers explored robotics, gaming, 3-D printing, movie making, music, and e-textiles.

Kadance Bell talks about the robot she built during the Summer Steam Experience program.

Kadance Bell talks about the robot she built during the Summer Steam Experience program.

Some APS middle schoolers spent part of their summer building and coding robots. Others spent their time exploring gaming and actually creating their own electronic video games. Students not interested in robotics or gaming were able to explore 3-D printing, movie making, music, and even e-textiles.

Close to 200 middle school students took part in the free five-week APS Summer Steam Experience. The program, now in its second year, provides fun, learning experiences for students. It incorporates project-based learning, computer science, and outdoor education while challenging students to solve real-world problems through collaboration and the design thinking process.

Among the participating students was Kadance Bell, an incoming seventh-grader at Tres Volcanes Community Collaborative School who wants to become a scientist or engineer and dreams of working at NASA someday.

“I learned a lot,” said Bell, who chose the robotics pathway. “I learned how to program a robot. How to use a micro:bit…”

She came up with the idea of building a robot to combat Russian olives, an invasive species causing problems in riparian areas throughout the Southwest. The non-native trees spring up near waterways and edge out native vegetation.

So Bell created a MISTer Digs prototype. MISTer Digs has whiskers to detect invasive species, a digger to root them out, and a sprayer to chemically control them.

She and the other Summer Steam Experience participants unveiled their prototypes last Thursday at a share fair.

Coding was easy, Bell said, adding that the hard part was figuring out how to attach the digger to the robot.

Addressing invasive species was a common project theme for the middle schoolers – probably because the students went on a field trip to Los Padillas Wildlife Sanctuary and got to see the problem up close.

Eli Montaño Jr., who attends Eisenhower Middle School, also built a robot prototype to take on invasive species, but his featured a rotating blade to cut the vegetation. Like Bell, he said the hardest part was getting the “blade” to stay on the robot.

Montaño enjoyed the summer program.

“I made a lot of friends,” he said. “I also love the concept of robotics.”

Brye Campbell and Daiwik Devanand, both of whom will begin ninth grade in the fall, opted for the gaming pathway. They created “Weed Slayer,” an electronic video game where players earn points for burning salt cedar and Russian olive. Players lose points if they accidentally burn a native species like a cottonwood tree.

Campbell and Devanand took the “brains” of a tutorial game and changed the background and the look of the characters through coding.

Irish Jane Quidet, who teaches biology and health at West Mesa High School, worked with robotics students during the Summer Steam Experience. Ms. Irish, as she is referred to by students, said she was blown away by the engagement and creativity the students showed.

When they started the program and were told what they would be doing over the five weeks, many voiced concern that it was “too much” and that they wouldn’t be able to pull it off, Ms. Irish said. But that quickly changed as the middle schoolers began working on the robots and realized they could add sensors, lights, and other accessories.

Before long, she noted, “they didn’t even want a break. They wanted to keep going. They really worked hard.”

Ms. Irish said another important lesson students picked up was that failure is OK as long as you learn from it.

“I’m so proud of them,” she said of the students.

The Summer Steam Experience is run by the APS Curriculum and Instruction Department and is funded through federal pandemic relief funds. It will be back for its third year next summer, and organizers are looking forward to expanding the program to more students. 

“Our goal is to provide a rich and engaging program that sparks student interest in pursuing STEM pathways in high school and beyond,” organizers said. “We expect students to learn and try new things, get messy, and engage with activities that will inspire and challenge them in new ways!”