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Denise Baratta / for the Mail Tribune
Randy Nunez, 13, left, and Ruby Rector, 13, take hair samples from a pretend corpse in a crime scene investigations class Thursday in Talent.

Talent Maker City not your average summer camp

TALENT — From analyzing a simulated crime scene to flying drones and setting off rockets, students at Talent Middle School turned a few days of summer into a learning experience they’ll likely not soon forget.

The STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) camp last week was put on by the nonprofit Talent Maker City in conjunction with the Phoenix-Talent School District and with a grant from the Southern Oregon Education Service District. Course offerings included CSI Forensic Science, Drone Mapping and Rocketry.

In the CSI class, taught by Heather Armstrong and Gabe Sitowski, two dozen students analyzed a simulated murder scene that included a dummy victim, hair, footprints and other evidence and learned about blood typing, finger printing and even foot printing.

Student Jade Hunter of Talent sketched a detailed drawing of the scene in her crime field book, a passport-sized document given to each student. Jade has been enrolled in the Middle School’s STEAM program for the last two years.

“I did a lot of drawing when I was younger. So far, I’ve been focusing on STEAM I think that the hands-on learning is a lot better,” Jade said.

In another part of the school, students in Drone Mapping discovered the machines’ potential while also learning how to fly them. The class was limited to six and taught by Lou Hayes, an Federal Aviation Administration-certified unmanned aircraft pilot and retired civil engineer.

Hayes stressed the importance of always having a drone within sight and flying it no higher than 400 feet off the ground, as per FAA regulations. Anything higher than that, and drones can interfere with national airspace.

On Thursday morning, objects were placed around the edge of the field for a search-and-rescue simulation. Students used the drones to spot them, mapped their locations, then raced to retrieve the items.

Capturing images was just as exciting as the flying, said student Ray Hart.

“I like to take videos and pictures. You get really cool stuff,” said Hart. When Hayes pressed a button to get the drone to return automatically to a landing spot, it missed by over a foot. “That’s the worst yet,” he observed.

For the Rocketry class, students made their rockets from two-liter soda bottles, then designed nose cones that they fabricated using a 3-D printer. They used an air pump to pressurize water in the rockets, then launched them into the air and tracked them to determine their speed.

“We just time it from its launch to its highest point,” explained Jacob Moody of Talent, who was using a hand-held stopwatch for one measurement. Instructor Justin Thibedeau sat on the ground with a protractor-like device to measure the height the rocket traveled. Students used the data to calculate speed.

One nose cone detached when a rocket hit the ground, but that’s part of the learning experience, said Allison French, camp coordinator with Maker City.

“Failure is a huge part of it. It’s really not embraced in our culture anymore,” said French. “Everyone has problems at some point.”

Middle school students from Talent, Phoenix, Ashland and Central Point attended the sessions tuition-free. A free lunch was provided, and the district supplied transportation between home and school.

Another middle school summer camp held in June gave students the opportunity to design and build their own skateboard, launch rockets, and learn about health care innovations, including design and prosthetics.

Talent Maker Space will offer classes during the school year and has grant support from SOESD for another round next summer.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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