As teenagers chased each other around the Fox Tech gym, teaching assistant Michael Landez explained nonchalantly that they were “working together to save the human race.”
Half the group wore red-splattered shirts marking them as zombies, trying to infect their peers by tagging them, then beating them at a game of rock-paper-scissors. As the game wore on, only a few humans with immunity to the plague remained, trying to resist the infection.
In a discussion afterward, the teenagers talked about how immunity slows the spread of diseases and how viruses — like their mock zombie plague — mutate and evolve.
“Zombie Camp,” run by the Science Mill at San Antonio Independent School District’s CAST Tech campus last week, introduced the incoming freshmen to concepts from biology, chemistry and engineering against an apocalyptic backdrop.
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“We learned a lot about engineering, all types — chemical, mechanical, bioengineering,” said Cole Rodriguez, 16.
Esai Uribe, 14, said his favorite part of the week was coding to make LED lights send messages or signals.
They had to use the technology to make something that would be “useful” in an apocalyptic scenario, he said. Uribe is looking forward to taking more coding and chemistry classes at Southwest ISD’s CAST STEM High School this fall.
About half the 20 campers will attend CAST Tech in the fall, with the others split between CAST STEM and CAST Med, which will open in SAISD with its first students this year. The career-themed schools are part of the Centers for Applied Science and Technology’s network, launched by H-E-B in 2016.
Victoria Baez, 14, will start at CAST Med this fall. She’s interested in a career in medicine, she told classmate Jasmine Rangel, 14, as they set to work building a prosthetic leg out of recycled materials Friday afternoon.
They were tasked with imagining that they’d lost a limb in a zombie attack, then using their limited resources to build a prosthesis.
Baez sketched out the shape of a knee, leg and foot while she and Rangel tried to determine how to use an empty soda bottle to make an ankle joint.
“We’re looking for a ball to make it swivel,” Rangel explained as they tried to improvise with the bottles, tape, cardboard tube and other materials they’d been given.
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Other activities earlier in the week included programming robots to search for items, testing chemical reactions, building pneumatic machines and creating wearable technology to act as a flashlight or reflector. They also took a trip to the Science Mill, an interactive science museum in Johnson City.
“They’re kept very busy,” said Susan Richardson, the program’s technology instructor. This was her fourth Zombie Camp this summer, she said, and while the incoming freshmen were the oldest group, they were also the first to ask to wear zombie-themed face paint, throwing themselves into the theme.
The program gives them a sampling of different subjects, Landez said. “In high school, they tend to get pushed into biology, then chemistry, then physics. They don’t get to explore coding. They don’t know what it’s like to engineer something” because those classes are often more math-based than hands-on. The projects at camp give them a tangible way to apply those concepts, changing their perspective when they later get into those classes, he said.
Student Rodriguez said that at first, he was “more into the zombie apocalypse. But once we started learning, it was just so fun that I started getting into it.”