Summer STEAMing with fun

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The classroom doors opened, and there lay a dummy with a knife protruding from its head. As part of a summer forensics science class, students used blood spatter patterns, hair samples and fingerprints from a mock crime scene to determine who committed a murder and learn about evidence collection. 

For the third consecutive year, Upper St. Clair High School hosted a weeklong summer program, bringing together around 60 students to study the field known as STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and math. For $350 a week, students selected one of these four classes: chemistry, 3-D printing, art sculpture or forensic science.

This was the first year the program incorporated art, previously focusing on STEM. Students came from both Upper St. Clair and Sto-Rox High School, and about 10 of whom received scholarships. 

Students in the forensics science class used magnetic powder and tape to lift fingerprints and examined cat and dog hairs under a microscope.

Working at a crime scene was more difficult than it appears on TV, said Shae Burtain, 15, a rising sophomore.

After collecting evidence, the students compared notes to determine who was responsible for the murder. 

“It gets us to think outside the box,” said London Brooks, 13, a rising ninth-grader. 

In the art sculpture class, students worked with sheet metal and recycled materials to make a kinetic object. Wearing long sleeves, thick gloves and black helmets, they welded pieces together to make sculptures ranging from an eagle to a bow and arrow.

Grace Hasco, 14, a rising ninth-grader, made a roller coaster out of old exhaust pipes and concrete. She said she was initially frustrated by the welding process, because she found it challenging, but then learned to enjoy it. 

In the 3-D printing class, students made jewelry, puzzles and small gizmos. One assembled a penny-launcher out of a number of printed parts. 

Sahil Doshi, 14, a rising ninth-grader, made a ping-pong paddle with a 3-D printer and a CNC machine, using both wood and plastic.

Ananya Cleetus, 17, a rising senior, was helping out at the program for the third consecutive year, previously working in a robotics class. The applications of 3-D printing are numerous, she said, ranging from medicine to transportation. Even if students are not interested in pursuing a STEM career, they can still gain something from being exposed to the technology, she said. 

In the chemistry class, Paul Hess, 15, a rising sophomore, said he saw a gummy bear burst into purple flames. Writing lab reports was the most challenging aspect of the course, he said, but it made him feel better prepared for the honors chemistry class he will take next year. 

The class explored gases and the way they behave, Dom Frollini, a chemistry teacher at Upper St. Clair, said. Students used logger pro computers and experiments to learn the classic gas laws by measuring pressure, temperature, amount and volume. 

One of six students helping that class, Akshay Prasadan, 16, a rising junior who wore a Chemistry Olympics T-shirt, said he thought students would come away from the program with a greater passion for the subject.

“Doing stuff in the summer prepares you for next year and keeps your mind sharp,” Akshay said. 

Stephanie McFeeters:

Stephanie McFeeters: smcfeeters@post-gazette or 412-263-3909. On Twitter: @mcfeeters.

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