Ray Huard ….. Eleven-year-old Riley Sisson wants to be a geologist, but she spent a week in June at Vista Innovation & Design Academy learning how electric circuits work.
“I like doing experiments,” Riley said.
She was among 32 Vista Unified School District middle-schoolers who took part in a Qualcomm-inspired maker camp at Vista Innovation & Design Academy (VIDA).
For starters, the students hooked an LED (Light Emitting Diode) bulb and a battery to a string of Play-Doh that was modified to connect electricity to create a somewhat
unconventional electrical circuit.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Megan McDonald, 10.
During the week, Megan and the other students also played around with computer coding to make robots that could move, flash lights and make sounds.
“It’s kind of teaching them about engineering and creativity, and how they go hand-in-hand,” said David Ruiz, a VIDA English teacher who’s also a self-taught expert on engineering and electricity.
“I want kids not to be fearful about taking on new concepts,” said Ruiz, who was in charge of the summer camp. “I want them to be learning how to unleash their creativity and display some of the concepts in electricity and engineering.”
Using his own varied interests as an example for the students, Ruiz said, “It’s good to be someone who can think from multiple perspectives.”
The summer camp used VIDA’s Innovation Lab, opened in 2016 to replicate the Thinkabit Lab Qualcomm opened in March 2014 at its Sorrento Valley headquarters, where students in grades six through eight spend a day working on projects and learning about careers in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.
VIDA is one of three San Diego County schools to have Qualcomm-sponsored labs modeled after the company’s Thinkabit Lab.
VIDA Co-Principal Eric Chagala said that the camp gives students a chance “to express learning, to go deeper into learning” than they might during the school year.
“A week is a good amount of time for the kids to really dig in and understand something,” Chagala said.
Campers were selected at random from among Vista Unified students who applied.
Tinkering and experimenting is at the heart of the summer camp, along with seeing how what they learn has practical implications.
For example, by middle school, students already have a pretty good idea of computer coding, but Ruiz said most of what they’ve been doing involves creating games or work that’s displayed on a computer screen.
“I want their coding to be applied to real world, physical objects – things that go beyond computer screens,” Ruiz said. “For me, it’s more exciting than looking at a screen.”
That’s where building things at camp that move, light up and make noise come in – all controlled by computer codes the summer camp students create.
Thanks, in part, to the summer camp, Deviree Solony, 10, is now looking at engineering as a possible career.
“I think it’s fun, just creating things that could be useful to other people,” Deviree said.