Campers tried to pick up a variety of beans with different sized forceps during the marine biology workshop at last week’s STEM Camp.

Four-hundred beans covered the table as five kids hurriedly fumbled to pick up as many as they could, only using forceps.

These kids weren’t just playing with their food, but learning about natural selection and evolution. It was all part of the STEM Camp experience, which returned to Anacortes Middle School last week.

With the goal to push creativity, exploration, problem solving and fun, the Anacortes Schools Foundation hosted this camp for students entering sixth through eighth grades. There were a variety of workshops to choose from in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Pacific Mammal Research founder Cindy Elliser led a workshop alongside fellow research scientist Katrina MacIver, giving campers insight into marine biology.

The second day of camp on Wednesday, Aug. 9, began with the kids building a plankton reproduction out of household objects, such as aluminum foil and paper clips, to mimic a plankton’s natural state of neutral buoyancy. The object must not float or sink, but sit level in the water column.

Campers learned plankton adapted over time to become neutrally buoyant, which led into the youngsters’ next activity: exploring natural selection and evolution via the bean experiment.

Elliser scattered white beans, kidney beans, lima beans and lentils on the table — 100 of each kind. The beans represented different sizes of prey. The kids used three different types of forceps, which represented different sizes of predators, to pick up the beans.

They conducted the experiment three times, calculating which species of prey was reproducing and which was dying off after each round. Shredded tissue paper grass was added as a challenge to the predators. The kids had to pick up the beans without moving the prey’s protection.

“It’s fun. You can talk about it all you want, but working hands-on connects them more to the topic,” Elliser said of the activity. “The fun of STEM is the questions that come out of it and the process of figuring it out.”

Savannah Thorp, 11, wants to be a marine biologist.

“I want to work with animals and help save the sea and sea creatures,” she said.

Sam Williams, 12, and Joseph Fisher, 11, both said they enjoyed taking a trip to see marine life in their natural habitat on the first day of camp. Joseph’s favorite part was looking at the big red rock crabs, although they almost pinched him.

Savannah, Joseph and Sam are all going into sixth grade, so this was their first time attending STEM Camp. They agreed they want to come back next year.

Other workshops offered included kitchen science, problem solving and engineer science, art and science, recreation and robotics.

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