Summer is among us and many students are still learning in hands-on ways. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) camps are back for their second year in the Francis Howell School District (FHSD). The STEM program uses development activities to enhance and further develop academic, personal and intrapersonal skills for students seeking careers in STEM fields.
Elementary students who completed grades 3, 4, or 5 were welcome to participate in STEM camps. STEM camps focused on subjects that will help students develop critical thinking, communication skills, group collaboration, and gives students the chance to express creativity in a technological way. To further these skills, students have the opportunity to use several hands-on technological programs. Multiple areas of robotics building are covered during the camps such as designing, programming, and building. Using programs such as Green City Robotics, Lego Mindstorm, Bridges Scratch, and 3D Geometry, students have the chance to build and program robots to perform various tasks.
Several FHSD teachers were involved in the STEM curriculum, including Adam Corbitt, fifth grade teacher at Warren Elementary and STEM camp teacher. Corbitt strives to keep his students motivated through hands-on learning activities to help them reach their ultimate goals.
“I believe STEM benefits students by exposing kids at an early age to various aspects of technology and gives them a chance to explore something that they might be interested in for the future,” said Corbitt.
Part of STEM camp was building robots. To begin the building phase of the robots, students were divided into small groups, which gave students the chance to learn to solve problems with other people. Also, this develops each individual’s communication skills and shows that having team and communications skills are just as important as knowing how to program or build a robot.
After breaking into groups, students began by constructing their robot, and once built some students spent their time programing the robot to move according to rotations or time and collected small blocks called “energy cubes.” After the robots were programed, students hit play and stepped back to watch for a hopeful outcome. Students would attempt over 100 runs to try to perfect the movements of the robots.
According to Corbitt, “This gives the chance for students to learn through their failures and develop the motivation to stick with something even after multiple failures.”
Additionally, students were programmed their robots to talk and say “hello” when the play button was selected. While others would utilize the robots sensor to program it to choose between a red and blue ball; once programmed the robot would then “golf” away the red ball. Allowing students to choose from various programing activities gave them the chance to explore their own particular interests within the program. Some discovered that they enjoyed building the robot, while others found their main interest to be in programing the actions of the robot.
“STEM camp is a great chance for kids to have an early exposure to engineering and learn about an interest that they may never have discovered otherwise,” said John Gains, Francis Howell Central High School senior and STEM camp volunteer.
While at STEM students also participated in a catapult activity that mimics the popular game Angry Birds. Students built catapults with rubber bands and Popsicle sticks, but were not given any instructions on how to build the catapults in the beginning. Students were forced to use their critical thinking skills to develop their own ways to make the catapults work. During this activity students were exposed to the idea that technology does not need electronics to function properly and can be developed in multiple ways.
Parents were also engaged in the camps and were welcome to sit in to see what their kids were working on during the day, or if interested, parents volunteered at the camps. Students also were given a survey about the STEM camps, as a way to assess the camp and voice their opinions about how the camps may be improved for future years.
FHSD STEM camps have more than doubled its size in the past year, increasing from 150 students to 360 students. The increase in numbers has changed the dynamic of the camps completely within a year and has made the camps grow along with the students, with the hopes of expanding the camp even further in future years.