For five days last week, Vernon Parish students ranging from grades one through eight solved science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) problems, pioneer-style.

Pickering Elementary School was transformed into the Great Pioneertown as 69 students divided into small groups, read through challenges of a fictional family from that period trying to settle on the land.

“Each day they went through a journal entry with this family to find their challenge for the day,” Camp Discovery coordinator Nichole Williams said. “On day one, they needed clean water. So, the kids had to come up with an idea on how to get clean water.”

The groups developed various solutions to filtration devices to get their water clean enough to drink.

“We got the messiest water we could find and then poured three-quarters of a cup through their filtration systems,” Williams said. “They had to get at least half a cup of clean water out of the device.”
Groups layered materials such as pebbles, coffee filters and fabric pieces inside of a plastic water bottle. The dirty water passed through and came out cleaner on the other end.

On day two, the students created a cabin (model-sized) which could withstand a windstorm (hairdryers).

Deep in “Indian territory” on day three, they had to create a defensive tower which could handle the weight of an apple.

By the time day four rolled around, the pioneers were in need of a bath. “Nobody wants a cold bath so they had to come up with a solar device to warm up the water,” Williams said.

Students created a pulley system on day five to remove rocks from the land in order to dig a well.

STEM became STEAM with the addition of art into the learning mix.  “They are artistic in each project with the designs, but they also created silhouettes on canvas,” Williams said. Silhouettes were a popular way to capture one’s likeness during pioneer times.

Throughout Camp Discovery, grades one through three were grouped together and taught by Jennelle Bryan (Pickering Elementary, third grade) and Angela Richards (Pickering Elementary, second grade).

Grades four through seven were taught by Andrea Gilbert (Pickering Elementary, fourth grade science and social studies), Caitlin Sanderson (Pickering Elementary, fifth grade science and social studies) and Christopher Blevins (Pickering Elementary fifth grade English).

Williams (Pickering Elementary, fifth grade math) also worked with the students at Camp Discovery.

The program was also open to eighth graders but none signed up.

Her original plan was two groups of 15 in the morning and two groups of 15 in the afternoons, for 60 total participants. They ended up with 69 students enrolled so they had to expand a bit to accommodate the higher numbers.

Each Camp Discovery participant pays $50 and the rest is covered by the Fort Polk Progress Education Initiative.

The goal is to encourage students to get involved with STEM/STEAM enrichment projects in preparation for future college and career plans. “It gets the kids thinking like engineers, thinking outside the box, creatively, and working with a smaller group setting,” Williams said. “They are able to be in leadership roles with lots of cooperative learning, communication and interpretation of the challenges.”