Stimulating STEM: Summer camp provides hands on learning

MUSCATINE, Iowa–Though many kids complain about boredom during the dog days of summer, 31 eighth and ninth grade students explored science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in a fresh, hands on way the week of Aug. 9. Through a variety of projects and field trips, students delved more into these meaningful topics and set the foundation for a school year of success.

Students started the week with a visit to Discovery Park, where they learned about buoyancy first hand by canoeing and kayaking around Discover Pond. They also did some water quality testing of their own and discovered the kinds of information scientists can gather from water samples.

The following day, students practiced thinking like scientists through a collaborative bingo game and by devising a way to determine if different bags all contained the same colors. They then presented their findings to the class, allowing them to utilize their graphing skills, as well as their social and public speaking skills. Students also discussed major issues facing the world today and how people can take action to address them.

Wednesday, students focused on engineering by completing a task from the Physics Olympiad. As student Makaela Walker explained it, “We’re trying to build a contraption that we can hang over the edge of the table that will hold 50 grams.” Given only simple building materials such as straws, straight pins, and string, students had to come up with a unique and stable way to hold their weights up 25 centimeters from the edge of their tables for at least 10 seconds.

In preparation for a trip to the Science and Industry Museum in Chicago, students visited the Muscatine Art Center to view their “Alterations: Tailored Solutions to Climate Change” exhibit. Along with learning museum etiquette and how to get the most out of a trip to a museum, students also got to go behind the scenes a bit and learn how curators make learning come alive for visitors.

Even before students had their culminating museum visit, they enjoyed experiencing STEM for themselves in an exciting and engrossing way that also allowed them to meet new people. Ellie Collins shared that she most liked, “just being able to learn,” while her groupmate, Rhynn Miller valued getting, “to socialize and make new friends.”

As for Pam Joslyn, the Susan Clark Junior High School eighth grade science teacher who organized the camp, she found the week a success and a good sign for the year ahead. “In my 29 years of teaching, this has to be my favorite group going in,” she shared, noting that all the students had a zest for learning and got along well, despite the range of ages and schools attended (the camp accepted students from both Susan Clark Junior High School and Muscatine High School as well as Saints Mary and Mathias Catholic School). She hopes that in the year ahead, they will keep that spirit alive and continue to pursue STEM opportunities in junior high school, high school, and beyond.