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Kids slime, splash and cook their way through scientific principles in camp led by LCHS students

La Cañada Unified Elementary school students learned how fun science principles can be when demonstrated with marshmallows, slime and water balloons during a recent weeklong science camp led by students in La Cañada High School’s Science National Honor Society.

The 90-minute lessons at La Cañada Elementary School kicked off Monday, June 25, as teens introduced campers to Non-Newtonian fluids in a slime-making project. Students also set up stations to make their own rock candy, which would become a sort of graduation present Friday once they were done crystallizing.

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Veronica Muller, 16, was among the cohort of Spartans who planned and executed the fun tutorials for fourth- through sixth-graders who, like them, harbor a natural interest in science and engineering. Classes were free, though some community service credits may have crossed palms.

“We all took experiments we’d found online or things we’d done before in our lives that we thought the kids would enjoy,” Muller said. “We hope they learn a bit more about hands-on science and seeing science firsthand with these activities.”

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On Thursday, students made hologram machines out of clear plastic pyramids and toasted Pop-Tarts outside in solar ovens they’d made out of pizza boxes on Tuesday.

For the main event, LCHS seniors John “Sandro” Del Rivo and Jon Potter explained campers would be testing their structural engineering chops via marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti. They’d have 20 minutes to build a structure — the tallest to outlast the rigors of the “shake table” would win bragging rights.

“If your tower survives, you’ll have passed the earthquake test,” Del Rivo said.

Students tried several shapes and methods, retooling when prototypes disappointed. In the end, five teams approached the shake table. All structures passed, and the contest was down to height. A gloopy concoction named “Stick Your Heads Together” by its female architects rivaled the height of “Pizza,” created by a table of boys. Other entrants included “Illuminati,” “Marshmallow Man” and “Leaning Tower of Marshmallows.”

“We thought of doing a triangle, because it’s supposed to be the strongest shape,” Paradise Canyon Elementary sixth-grader Leigh Epstein from the “Leaning Tower” team explained in a science-forward debriefing. “But it wasn’t wide enough, so we added a square base around it.”

Jim Cartnal, a district official who serves as SNHS’ administrative adviser, said high schoolers created the lessons to give back to the community and inspire a new generation of science enthusiasts. Although fun is a focus, student leaders continually reinforce the principles for maximum effect.

“We’re just trying to encourage and enrich kids’ love and learning of science,” Cartnal said.

Talking to campers, it seems that mission was accomplished.

“It’s probably the best camp I’ve ever been to. We just do a whole bunch of fun things,” said PCY sixth-grader Miles Lhotka, enjoying a Pop-Tart at the end of the camp day.

Was it warm?

“Yeah,” said Palm Crest Elementary School sixth-grader Luca Bonnici. “The pizza box oven heats it up to 130 degrees.”

“We learned that as well,” Lhotka said.

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