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1030 Cook STEAM Camp 1.jpgKari Ragain (standing), a campus content instructional specialist (CCIS) for science at Cook Middle School, fires fog circles out of a “vortex cannon,” using the air pressure to knock the red cups off the heads of participating students on Oct. 20. The exercise was part of the first-ever STEAM Camp at Cook Middle School, which Ragain put together alongside Cinnamon Knox, a math CCIS, after the two attended a STEM field trip and wanted to bring some of the hands-on experiences to their students. In addition to experiments, working professionals in the engineering and medical fields volunteered and led career stations.

CYPRESS — The idea was born from a field trip, but the result is what could be the first of many STEAM-related camps and workshops at Cook Middle School, which held its first camp Oct. 20.


Approximately 40 students attended, spending three hours conducting science- and engineering-related exercises and spending time with professionals in those respective fields.

The camp was planned and put on by Cook campus content instructional specialists Kari Ragain (science) and Cinnamon Knox (math), who got the original idea following a STEM field trip to Lone Star College—CyFair a few years ago. It included experiments and projects, so the duo wanted to host a similar event on campus.

1030 Cook STEAM Camp 2.jpgAs an introductory activity to the Cook Middle School STEAM Camp on Oct. 20, students were asked to stack plastic cups, but do so with string and rubber bands instead of their hands. The camp was the first of its kind at Cook, which featured a morning full of STEM-related activities and brought professionals in the engineering and science fields to the students.

Cook has added arts to STEM, resulting in the acronym STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics).

“It was very impactful so we wanted to do something like that on our own campus,” Knox said. “This was our first time but I think – overall – it was a success. The kids enjoyed what they did and they told us a lot about the stations with all the hands-on experiments.”

The camp began with breakfast and introductions, where students were separated four groups. Then came the icebreaker activities, starting with students competing to build a tower of red plastic cups without using their hands but instead using string and rubber bands.

1030 Cook STEAM Camp 3.jpg
Cook Middle School Principal Maggie Wiley (seated) served as a volunteer patient in the medical career station during the school’s STEAM Camp on Oct. 20. Students asked each patient different questions and checked symptoms to help determine an ailment, such as a panic attack.

It was followed by teams of two building a catapult out of a plastic spoon, rubber bands and popsicle sticks. Once completed, each team used their catapult to launch mini marshmallows across the Cook cafeteria.

The groups then rotated to four different career stations.

Joel Deal, a mechanical engineer at ExxonMobile, used toys (marbles, slinky and a bouncy ball) to demonstrate with students how engineering teams use soundswaves to help measure depths and determine what they are digging through.

Tonya Jones, the director of nursing at Faith Memorial Nursing Home in Pasadena, set up a mock emergency room, giving five volunteer patients – including Cook Principal Maggie Wiley – different illnesses or conditions. Students went through a checklist of symptoms for each to determine what each patient had.

1030 Cook STEAM Camp 4.jpgStudents worked with Tonya Jones (left), the director of nursing at Faith Memorial Nursing Home in Pasadena, at the medical career station, which was set up as a mock emergency room. After determining the symptoms of a patient, students checked between two condition that had similar symptoms in determining the correct ailment.

Chris Bentson, a software engineer with J.P. Morgan, discussed video game coding. With students huddled around, Bentson broke down on his laptop steps that engineers use to create many of the popular games played today.

“I thought it was interesting and I was able to learn some new things that may actually help me in the future,” seventh-grade student Coy Howard said. “I want to get into engineering and coding so this is right up my alley. It was fun and it’s actually inspiring me to do some other stuff that I wasn’t planning on doing. But it got me thinking about things and experiments to do.”

Ragain ran the fourth station, demonstrating science experiments using household or easily-accessible items. It included combining dish soap, water and dry ice to form an endless stream of bubbles.

1030 Cook STEAM Camp 5.jpgChris Bentson (white top), a software engineer with J.P. Morgan, discusses video game coding with students at his career station during the Cook Middle School STEAM Camp on Oct. 20.

She also demonstrated air pressure with a “vortex cannon,” filling a trash can with fog and pushing it out through a hole cut out on the bottom using pressure. This resulted in fog rings that she used to knock cups off students’ heads.

“It’s more hands-on and I like that part of science,” said seventh-grade student Easton Grove. “One thing I learned is it’s not that hard to make or do these things at home. The dry ice you can find at a grocery store, most people have dish soap at home, and water. So you can do these things.”

Ragain and Knox said that students approached them both during and after the camp, asking when it would be put on again. There isn’t a date on the next camp, but Ragain added the importance of experiences like these as students start making plans for high school endorsement and course selection, and even farther down the road looking at possible jobs and careers.

“A lot of these kids don’t know what an engineer does or someone who does coding, so we wanted them to see STEM-related jobs,” she said. “There’s a push for STEM as students head toward high school, so this helps get them interested.”

 1030 Cook STEAM Camp 6.jpg Students take video of a bubble during the chemistry career station. Experiments at the station included household or inexpensive items, as the bubble was filled with smoke that resulted from dry ice joining dish soap and water.

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