Mindbender Academy expands young minds

Some 400 young minds at Frisco ISD spent a week learning to build a hovercraft, design a dream home and make shoes.

A cadre of volunteers and collaboration from both local and national businesses and organizations participated in Frisco ISD's Mindbender Academy, which focused on sixth-eighth grade students.

The sixth annual week-long science, technology, engineering and math camp added a fifth component this year – art as it relates to science and technology fields.

Because of high demand, the STEAM academy week featured a morning and afternoon session this year, allowing for double the 200 students in 2012. More than 40 volunteers from the school district, businesses and the local community helped with the effort, said Peter Burns, Mindbender chairman and president elect of the Frisco Education Foundation.

Burns said the goal of the academy is to provide hands-on activities to the students instead of traditional lectures in an effort to gain and keep their attention while dealing with in-depth concepts.

Businesses and educational partners included Raytheon, Siemens, the Art and Technical Institute, Alcatel-Lucent, Millennial Kids Couture, CoServ, Collin College, the Society for Informational Management (SIM) and the WorldWide Telescope Ambassadors.

Marie Walters, mother of Mindbender Academy participant Naomi Walters, said she thinks it's a "fabulous program" that gives kids a fun, hands on approach to technical programs. She compared the academy to sneaking vegetables into a child's diet — where they eat them without realizing they are there.

"It amazes me how smart the kids are," she said. "They catch on so fast."

Through software, Raytheon allowed students to design and build a hovercraft and introduced them to its Math Moves U program.

Siemens computer aided design software allowed students to understand 3-D modeling by building a Lego program. The company also gave a software license worth $2,500 each to each student in the program.

A software program for the Arts and Technical Institute allowed students to build a dream home and surroundings.

Alcatel-Lucent introduced students to the technology behind wireless networking security.

Millennial Kids Couture introduced students to the engineering and science behind fashion. Students designed, cut and built tennis shoes and flip flops, then tested them for comfort.

CoServ taught students how to route electricity through a fictional city, beginning with the process of securing a contract.

SIM introduced students to the science of space exploration.

Patricia Udomprasert, project director for the WorldWide Telescope Ambassador program at Harvard University, introduced students to beginning astrology concepts.

Natalie Davis, a three-year academy volunteer, said she loves the program because she learns nearly as much as the students do. She said it's an opportunity for the students to step outside the box, learn new things and possibly figure out what direction they want to take later in life.

Exponential program growth

Burns said participation demand has increased exponentially since its beginning.

It took three months the first year to gather 78 students, three weeks to find 100 students the second year and six days to reach 174 students the third year. The fourth year was limited to 160 students while volunteers restructured the academy to be able to handle more students. By the fifth year, 200 students registered online in the first 90 seconds the registration period was open.

This year, 374 students signed up in the first 15 minutes and the program was fleshed out to the maximum 400 by the end of the day.

The cost to students is $125 for the week, and Burns said the academy is working to provide scholarships to 10 students per session who might not be able to participate because of monetary restrictions.

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