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DECATUR — Imagine trying to kill a woolly mammoth with a spear. There's a science to the prehistoric skill, Lutheran School Association students are learning.

Alex Harshman laughed at the idea at LSA's first STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Camp this past week.

“I don't think I could do it with just one,” said Alex, who will be a sophomore at LSA High School in the fall and plays baseball for the school's team. “Maybe with about 15 (spears).”

LSA is conducting its first-ever STEM camp this summer, said junior high/high school Principal Allison Nolen, because the school is planning to greatly increase its focus on those areas beginning with the coming school year.

“Basically, STEM has become increasingly important, and students need to develop these skills a million times more than they ever did,” Nolen said. “It breaks gender roles. Girls can do these things and activities, and they're things they can be really good at.

"It bridges gaps in age, every ethnicity, and every person can be good at something. Maybe you're not good at sports, and this is your thing.”

Nolen said many jobs will go unfilled because potential employees lack the necessary STEM skills to do the work, which has become increasingly sophisticated and technological.

“We want our kids to have a shot at one of those jobs, and STEM is fun,” she said. “Our whole economy depends on STEM. Everything we do here (in Decatur) has some background in agriculture or STEM, and this was the logical next step.”

New teacher Kyle Gilbert found out only a few weeks ago that Nolen wanted to hold a STEM camp and wanted him to lead it, he said with a chuckle. He thought, when she proposed the idea, that she meant next summer. It left him little time to plan, but he managed.

The spear-throwing activity was a combination of physics and fun, as the junior high and high school students learned that making it go straight was tougher than it appeared. A handy item called a “throwing board,” which is a sort of detachable handle the person throwing uses to launch the spear, provides a much straighter and longer throw.

“By science standards, this is physics, but we're kind of looking at the gateways of 'this technology happened first and that led to this (other) technology,'” Gilbert said. “What problems were they facing in those times? That was kind of my thought process for the STEM aspect of this activity, and it's a lot of fun.”

Going forward, he plans to have the kids make their own bows, which he said is a lot harder than it appears. He has tried it himself and laughingly admitted his bow didn't work at all.

Even with the throwing board, some of the students had difficulty getting their spear to do much more than fly a few feet.

“It's a fun way to learn,” said Jarrett Albert, who will be a freshman at LSA High School this fall. “And I wanted to meet the new teacher (Gilbert).”

This year, Nolen said, the LSA will divide into K-6 for elementary and 7-12 junior/senior high. She will be principal of the junior/senior high while Joel Witt will be principal for the elementary.

“Summer's a great time to kick this off, because the students can form relationships among themselves over the age differences,” Nolen said. “We're trying to get the kids to form relationships and find other kids with common interests over the summer.”

Students new to LSA were invited to attend one of the camps, which included an art camp in June and a band camp coming up later in the summer.

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Herald & Review.

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