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Program gives kids passport to STEM summer vacation

CLEARFIELD — Three, two, one ... lift off!

With that countdown, Matthew Burgess' handmade paper rocket shot into the blue sky above Hill Aerospace Museum, traveling further than any other projectile in the class of about 15 students. Matthew, 10, along with his 14-year-old sister, Amber, participated Saturday in the inaugural weekend session of the museum's STEM Summer Passport program.

"It was pretty cool and fun to do," Matthew said.

For the first time, the education staff at the Hill Aerospace Museum is offering a free summer program with interactive classes for children 8 years old and up to learn about science, technology, engineering and math. The classes run weekly Tuesday through Friday, and on alternating Saturdays. The camp meets at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Student and adult instructors lead classes including electricity, chemistry, astronomy, weather, forces of flight, "mission to Mars," "It's All in the tilt," magnetics, rockets and simple machines.

Upon completion of each class curriculum, individual students receive a stamp on the subject page of their Museum STEM Passport. When all the pages are stamped, students will receive a special commemorative pin, explained Mark Standing, lead instructor and director of education at Hill Aerospace Museum.

He said the goal of the program is to create a passion for science and STEM in children.

"I'm taking hard concepts and putting it in a form they can understand," he said. "They get hands-on (experience) they get to use and learn with."

He said the interactive approach used in the about 45-minute sessions makes the learning experience a lot less daunting and more enjoyable for young students and parents who often are intimidated by STEM subjects in typical classroom settings.

"I'm trying to make science interesting basing it off the state core curriculum," he said. "I'm trying to get them excited about being in the classroom."

While on the weekends students learn about rockets and magnetics, during the week there are various other subjects including electricity. In that class, Amber Burgess said she got a firsthand understanding of how electricty works, acting as the human conductor in an experiment to power a fluorescent light bulb.

"It was pretty fun," she said. "It (stung) a little bit. I could feel the electricity going through my body."

Matthew Burgess noted that he enjoys STEM, but is particularly interested in chemistry.

"Chemistry sounds fun," he said. "STEM is fun and exciting to me. You get to do different projects and discover different things you didn't (already) know."

Parent Kelly Price, 33, of Roy, brought her son Phoenix to the STEM summer program because of his love of "everything rocket and robot related." She said the program is ideally suited for his interests.

"He sits at home and reads robot books. We homeschool, so we're always looking for different opportunities for him to learn (about STEM)," she said. "And it's free. It's pretty awesome!"

"(The rockets class) is really engaging and innovative," she added. "If your kid is really into it, it's a great thing."

For parents who have the time and interest, the program is worth looking into, she said.

"Since raising him, he has opened my world up to new things," Price said. "Definitely, science and STEM are fascinating."

In addition to Standing, the program is also taught by student interns who are paid while receiving college credit for their participation in the summer program.

Raelyn Embleton, 23, is pursuing a master's degree in history education at Utah State University. She said though the STEM program curriculum is different from her graduate studies, it still offers her insight on how to reach students in a fun and interactive way.

"I've been learning a lot about science this summer," she said. "You think (the curriculum) is just for the kids, but I've learned so much. It's nice to broaden my own horizons."

As the program develops, she would like to add history-based information to the curriculum to expand the students' learning, she said.

"I just wanted to see how an education program at a museum like this worked and functions," Embleton explained. "And (see) how I could use history in all of these different subjects."

Fellow intern and BYU Hawaii student, Sara Filiaga, 19, said she would like to become a grade school teacher one day and the program offers her the opportunity to learn from Standing, who she considers an excellent role model.

"It's a really good experience for me and gives me a really good idea of what it would be like to be an elementary school teacher," she said. Additionally, some of the same subject matter she is learning in college is covered in the STEM passport program, she said.

Watching the excitement in the kids' faces as they learn new things is especially gratifying, she said.

"I love when they say, 'Oh my gosh! That was so awesome! We're definitely going to come back to the next class!'" Filiaga explained. "And Mark (Standing) is a very enthusiastic person and it's contagious."