Young students explore MTU’s research center

HOUGHTON -A few dozen local elementary students are learning the complex workings of the new Great Lakes Research Center this week during the inaugural Spring Break Science and Engineering Camp at Michigan Tech University.

The three-day camp is being put on through the Western Upper Peninsula Center for Science, Math and Environmental Education.

“This is the first time we’ve actually had a facility like this so conducive to doing these programs,” said Joan Chadde, center/camp director. “We’re trying to explore what works and we thought this would be great.

“The kids were really having a great time,” she said.

The camp runs through today and is divided into two groups: 16 first- and second-grade students learning through the theme, “Wildlife All Around”; and 18 third- through fifth-grade students exploring “Engineering of the Natural World.”

The elementary school students were from several local school districts in the Copper Country Intermediate School District.

MTU forestry graduates and Superior Americorps members Betsy Tahtinen and Kara Oikarinen started the week guiding the younger students through a day of hands-on activities, mixing interactive games with classroom presentations with the overall theme of wildlife adaptations.

After discussing the basics of what animals and humans need to survive in a GLRC classroom, the students “swam” – walked in a single-file line while mimicking breathing through gills – to the aquatic ecology lab on the other side of the building for a tour, which included an opportunity to feed several 2-year-old lake sturgeon in a tank.

Second-year biological sciences doctoral student Cameron Goble told the students lake sturgeon can live more than 100 years and weigh up to 100 pounds.

On the second floor of the research center, the older students were being introduced to the field of bioengineering through designing a model frog membrane.

“It’s taught in a very fun, hands-on way, which definitely increases their interest and they understand more about it,” Chadde said. “It’s so important to expose younger children to science and engineering in order to stimulate their interest.”

On Wednesday, the younger students went to the Nara Nature Center to explore “Wildlife in the Woods,” and the camp will wrap up today with education and activities about birds.

The third-, fourth- and fifth-graders designed wind turbines Wednesday.

“We’ve had a really great response, and we’re really engaging the community. That’s what we wanted to do with this building,” Chadde said. “It’s definitely a good program to continue because often times parents’ work schedules aren’t following the break schedule. … We’ve been engaged with K-12 science and engineering education for 20 years, so we just have a wealth of materials, and it’s great to be able to use them.”