Hands-on experiments and the scientific method opened the hearts and minds of elementary school students to the world of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Regent University’s School of Education (SOE) sponsored its yearly STEM camp for third, fourth and fifth graders the week of June 27, 2016. Volunteers from Virginia Beach City Public Schools led nearly 20 campers through four experiments each day.
“STEM camp is all about getting the students to think,” said Beverley Stemen, one of the volunteers. “We don’t spoon-feed them the information. Instead, we let them predict, experiment and discover through hands-on experiments. Some of the students will then go home and continue experiments on their own.”
One experiment involved cleaning coins, where the campers drenched dirty pennies in salsa. They then were challenged to determine which ingredient in the salsa was responsible for cleaning the pennies by cleaning the cash in individual ingredients of salsa including tomato paste, salt and vinegar. Acting as scientists, campers predicted what might happen based on what they already knew. They carried out the experiment and recorded their observations. Asking and answering questions, they concluded that salt cleaned the coins the quickest.
“Online, it says that vinegar cleans the pennies, but some of us as scientists had a different result. Why?” Stemen asked the students.
STEM camp encouraged students to investigate and find their own results, and then defend their findings. In the case of the penny cleaning ingredient experiment, students began asking more questions about the pennies and the contaminants on them to figure out why their results were different. They identified different variables such as the date the pennies were minted, and the amount of dirt on each coin.
STEM camp is designed to incorporate an element of science, math, engineering and science into each experiment, project or challenge. Regent’s SOE places a high value on STEM education, and offers teachers a new STEM certificate program to equip them to develop STEM-integrated curriculum.