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Forget Archery, These STEM-Focused Campers Are All About Robotics and Chemistry

Some campers this summer are skipping on traditional summer camp activities like canoeing to try their hand at something a little more futuristic -- like, fighting robots for example.

“You start out with a picture of the robot,” said 11-year-old, Mateo Dody. “You uncheck (the box) when you’re done with a step, and you go to the next step. It’s quite simple.”

Dody is just one of many students around the country this summer participating in STEM-based summer camps. The camps focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) have students working on everything building solar ovens to roast s’mores to using forensics to search for clues in mock crime scenes. It’s a way for educators to connect with students who have a passion for science and math in a no-pressure environment.

The camps run the gamut from some that are free and just a few hours over the course of a week, to others that can be expensive and cover a good chunk of the summer. They’re tailored to different age levels and interests, to offer students programs that are not only fun, but challenging.

For educators like Luke Kieffer, a technology education teacher in Bay City, Ohio, STEM-focused camps are not only a way to keep kids learning throughout the summer, but an opportunity to fuel their interest in the subject and help steer them towards a promising career path.

Keifer said he can usually have the campers tackle three projects a week and that it gives him a chance to connect with future students. “I can hook a lot of these kids and get them into my classes because they like what they did with me,” Keifer said. “So I'll see them in the next year or two coming into my classes, which is nice.”

While the camps are obviously supposed to be fun, organizers see them as a way to help boost the United States’ need for a new generation scientists and engineers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 5% of U.S. workers are employed in fields related to science and engineering. Rodney C. Adkins, senior vice president of IBM, told Forbes that the way to refuel the pipeline of students graduating in STEM and going on to work in productive careers is through maintaining enthusiasm from the elementary level up through college. “Our youngest students show an interest in STEM subjects, but the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has concluded that roughly 40% of college students planning to major in engineering and science end up switching to other subjects,” wrote Adkins.

There’s also the issue of working to balance out the number of women who go into STEM-related fields. While women account for roughly half of the U.S. labor force, they only account for around a quarter of STEM jobs.

Summer programs like the GE Girls, a female-focused summer STEM camp taught by engineers from Georgia Tech and GE is working to give talented female students a leg up in furthering their education. The free program is targeted at middle school girls and involves hands-on experiments like making lip gloss and developing body camera technology. “Our camp allows them to explore STEM activities in a fun, safe environment with both Georgia Tech and GE women who can share their experiences and passion for the field,” JoDee Newcomb, GE co-lead for the program told The Atlanta Journal Constitution.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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