Toy struc­tures perched on a shaker board began to wobble and twist at the start of a com­put­er­ized earth­quake. The mag­ni­tude increased and the struc­tures lost their sta­bility and crum­bled to the ground. Playful screams broke out.

I was just closing my eyes, going ‘Oh no, oh no, oh no,’ ” said 12 year-​​old Sophia Madden, whose team designed the longest lasting of five model towers made of plastic K’NEX toys.

Madden is among some four-​​dozen middle school stu­dents who are par­tic­i­pating in the Exxon­Mobil Bernard Harris Summer Sci­ence Camp.

The free, two-​​week pro­gram — run by Northeastern’s Center for STEM Edu­ca­tion —gives stu­dents the chance to work along­side North­eastern fac­ulty, staff and stu­dents on projects aimed at increasing their knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence in the areas of sci­ence, tech­nology, engi­neering and math­e­matics (STEM). The pro­gram is coor­di­nated by co-​​executive direc­tors Claire Duggan, Richard Harris and Rachelle Reisberg.

It has turned out to be a really good way to learn dif­ferent aspects of sci­ence and find out that there are a lot of really dif­ferent kinds of sci­en­tists out there,” said Mariama Camara, a 12-​​year-​​old from Stoughton, Mass. “It’s actu­ally really cre­ative. It isn’t just a bunch of boring experiments.”

As part of the camp, stu­dents will build model bridges designed to with­stand heavy loads and tol­erate exte­rior forces, like earthquakes.

Each activity com­bines aca­d­emic and real world strate­gies for solving engi­neering prob­lems. Yesterday’s activity, for example, began with a brief lec­ture on basic engi­neering prin­ci­pals before the stu­dents were divided into groups to test and design their own structures.

Without real­izing it, stu­dents designed exper­i­ments using the sci­en­tific method. They devel­oped a hypoth­esis on how dif­ferent struc­tures would handle the force of an earth­quake, tested their struc­tures by attempting to mimic the forces of an earth­quake and made changes they felt would improve the structure.

You don’t even really need to expose them to too much of the sci­en­tific process,” said Seda Gokyer, the PhD stu­dent who gave stu­dents back­ground infor­ma­tion and then facil­i­tated the exper­i­ment. “Intu­itively, they can figure it out, trying and seeing what works and what does not.”

Next week, astro­naut Bernard Harris — the program’s name­sake and the first African Amer­ican astro­naut to con­duct a space­walk out­side the space shuttle — will address the camp’s participants.