Campers Excited for STEM

The National Math + Science Initiative warns that the United States is losing its interest and proficiency in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and will face a shortage of 3 million workers in this field by 2018. A camp that spikes scientific thought and interest recently brought excited campers to Regent University’s campus for a week of exploration. Regent’s School of Education (SOE) is using its resources to get young people excited about STEM through experimentation and hands-on activity.

“STEM is like the buzz word now in the schools,” said Beverley Stemen, teacher in the Virginia Beach City Public Schools. “We have STEM activities in our curriculum guides. I know throughout Virginia, everyone is doing STEM.”

Stemen has helped direct Regent’s STEM camp for the past three years, guiding students through a handful of experiments.

“The last activity was taking out stuff from owl pellets,” said camper Emma McGowan. “We were picking out bones from the owl pellets that they regurgitate out of their mouths. We could have the skulls, jaws or legs.”

Other experiments included creating airbags, mixing diet Coke and Mentos, creating geometric creatures and tessellations, extracting iron out of dollar bills, and making popcorn and ice cream. The goal wasn’t just to show that science is fun, but open eyes to see science everywhere.

“We wanted to allow students to experience things that might be different from what they might normally get during the school year,” said Dr. Jenny Sue Flannagan, SOE associate professor and director of Regent’s Martinson Center for Mathematics & Science. “The activities are hands-on and driven by the students. We try to model the scientific process of making observations, asking questions and finding the answers.”

“We want some high-level thinking going on here if possible,” said Stemen. “The kids seem really open to it. We’ve had a couple of children here in this class who have come back twice, even though it is the same camp.”

McGowan is one of the campers who returned for a second year. The experience has given her a mind for learning and a heart for exploring. She says a STEM education is essential.

“It’s really important because in life you’re going to need math, science and technology, and engineering to make your life successful,” said McGowan.

“If you want students to choose a career in it, you need to get them motivated and excited,” said Flannagan. “You need to let them see that they can do what scientists, engineers and mathematicians do. We need to build that curiosity of why things happen and get kids observing and asking questions, and teaching them how to find answers to questions.”

Flannagan says the camp sought to do this by interlinking the elements of STEM. Each project or experiment had elements of engineering and science. Campers learned how all elements of STEM work together in a symbiotic relationship.

“I think they love it,” said Stemen. “They come in the next day and they’ll say, ‘We tried doing this to it. We took the dry ice and we did something different with it.’ It’s just exploring. It’s all about exploring and trying new things. We explained to them that it’s not always going to work the first time, that’s what science is. You’re trying and testing things and changing things, and see what happens. Just explore.”