SHERIDAN — “Scalpel. Forceps. Sponge.”
Students, donning medical gowns and masks, worked diligently on cow eyeball surgery under the glare of overhead lights while machines quietly beeped in the background. This mock operation was one of several activities that took place last week at Sheridan Junior High School during its fourth annual Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics camp.
Sheridan County School District 2 after-school coordinator Yvonne Osborne oversaw the camp, which was funded by a 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant. She said the goal is to get kids excited about different careers and explore aspects they wouldn’t encounter during the school year.
Every student who will attend SJHS in 2018-19 was eligible to sign up. About 75 sixth- through eighth-graders participated in the camp last week. Students gave presentations to parents Friday morning explaining what they did during the week.
The STEM camp has a different theme each year. The first year focused on water park design. In the second year, students turned their attention to creating Rube Goldberg machines.
Last year, it was mission space. This year, the camp focused on biomedical engineering. The different activities included suturing, cow surgery and creating robotic hands and prosthetic legs.
The cow surgery took place in SJHS science teacher Ryan Fuhrman’s room, where a curtain separated the preparation area from the operating room.
“Our patients have come in with limited eyesight, and we hope they leave today seeing clearly,” Fuhrman explained to the students. “To do that, you’re going to need to work with your team of surgeon, scrub tech and circulator nurse.”
Groups of three or four students worked side-by-side on the operating tables.They had about 15 minutes to complete the surgery. Fuhrman walked around the room, helping groups if necessary.
Fuhrman — who has taught all four years of the camp — suggested the overall theme in a brainstorming session with the camp’s other five instructors. He said it was fun to come up with different ideas.
Fuhrman and fellow instructor Emily Swinyer also saw a mock surgery at Sheridan Memorial Hospital the week before the STEM camp. Moreover, SMH donated the surgical supplies and medical outfits that students wore during surgery.
Students were in the school but it was different from a regular school day, which is more structured. At the STEM camp, the atmosphere was casual and focused on active, experiential learning.
“It’s nothing like schoolwork,” student Jacob Ornseth said. “When we need breaks, we can go get a drink and stuff, and we go where we feel comfortable, instead of just, ‘Do this. Do this. Do this.’”
Ornseth will be a seventh-grader at SJHS in the fall. This year was his third year participating in the camp. He said creating a Rube Goldberg machine was the most challenging activity he’s done at the camp, as it took his team took about 300 attempts before success.
This year, Ornseth said making and programming a robotic hand was the coolest part. He also enjoyed the different activities and working on a team of 12 students to create a game similar to Operation.
“They have a lot of variety, so I’ve been learning a lot about science for the past three summers,” Ornseth said. “I don’t really find much fun science stuff during the summer (other than this).”
Indeed, the camp is the only summer activity of its kind for middle-schoolers via SCSD2. There is a similar camp for elementary students this week at Woodland Park Elementary.
Swinyer, the former Sheridan County 4-H coordinator and current employee at Sheridan College, taught suturing and optical illusions related to the structure of eyes.
“It’s a lot more like passion teaching,” Swinyer said. “The kids get to really learn more detailed information about a specific area.”
Swinyer said the toughest aspect was bringing the theme to fruition via distinct activities.
“With the prosthetic and the artificial limb, those were great because they’re all so different from each other, but kind of all live in the same world as far as science is concerned,” Swinyer said.
Swinyer said she got more comfortable as the week went along and she enjoyed seeing students discover skills and talents.
“I love the fact that they were given the opportunity to find something that they are good at that they maybe would’ve never had the chance to try,” Swinyer said. “The opportunity to say, ‘OK, maybe I can go somewhere with this.’ It’s encouraging them to explore talents they didn’t know they had.”
From cow operations to optical illusions, the STEM camp provided a unique learning opportunity for many local middle-schoolers.