When students break for the summer, many researchers conclude that some of the knowledge gained over the school year is lost. According to the National Summer Learning Association, “All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer.” Here's a sampling of local science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) related camps, that help alleviate that regression.
MSiC Camp Innovation
(Photo by Aaron Moody, courtesy Mathscience Innovation Center.)
You could learn about the MathScience Innovation Center’s Camp Innovation from its staff, but why just take their word for it? Here are a few comments straight from last year’s participants:
“I liked that we didn’t just have to sit and watch — we got to do lots of fun, hands-on things.”
“My classmates were beyond excited, and we got pretty messy.”
“Our teacher was very nice. She explained everything we were going to do, so we weren’t on Clueless Island.”
The MSiC is in its 50th year and its acclaimed Camp Innovation engages rising fourth- through ninth-graders in weeklong courses focusing on biology, computer technology, engineering and more. The camp is the center’s largest and most popular student program, introducing youth to the fun of learning while giving them an in-depth look at topics that interest them.
Camp Innovation is available at several locations, including the MSiC's main campus at 2401 Hartman St. in Henrico County and John Tyler Community College’s Chester and Midlothian campuses. All programs incorporate lessons with a “hands-on, minds-on” approach to STEM learning — students are asked to solve, create and explore topics with a greater depth than is available in the classroom. In “Exploring the James River,” campers learn concepts of geology and ecology. In “Lego: Next Generation” and “Lego: Robotic Vehicles,” participants learn to program robots using Lego Mindstorms software. In “Lasers, Fiber Optics and Holograms,” students learn the basics of light to develop reflective holograms and kaleidoscopes. MSiC collaborates with university professors to develop content on subjects that are usually seen on a college campus, so that all students benefit from a quality academic experience.
Andrew Derer, MSiC’s coordinator of K-12 student programs, says a goal of the program is to ignite the spark that leads students to pursue a STEM career. “So many times I have heard adults recall coming to a center program and how that program led them to the career they are in today,” he says. “Students receive an educational experience that can stay with them for a lifetime.”
Visit mymsic.org for more information.
RMEP Summer Engineering Institute
(Photo courtesy RMEP)
It’s a sobering statistic: According to last year’s data from the National Science Foundation, minorities’ shares in degrees earned in engineering and in physical sciences since 2000 have been flat. However, local nonprofit organization Richmond Minorities in Engineering Partnership (RMEP) exists to reverse that statistic.
Founded in 1978, RMEP aims to achieve greater diversity in science and engineering. Enter the Summer Engineering Institute. A three-week academic program organized by RMEP, it introduces minority middle and high school students to the fields of science and engineering and what it takes to work in these professions.
The application-based program is held in collaboration with Virginia State University and Virginia Commonwealth University. It is divided into three phases based on grade levels from seventh grade to senior. Students engage in hands-on, STEM-related lessons on campus at VSU, and projects run the gamut from bottle-rocket cars to air-powered gliders, depending on the academic topics selected by RMEP’s board of directors. Engineers and architects from around the Richmond area serve as guest speakers. Last summer, more than 40 professionals volunteered their time.
RMEP also offers two coveted research assistant programs for rising or graduating seniors, who get to work one-on-one onsite with VCU graduate students while conducting research and experiments.
“Our overall goal is providing exposure to different disciplines of engineering to equip students with critical thinking skills,” says LaTasha Watson, RMEP’s executive director. “Even if these students don’t end up becoming engineers, they gain important skills for everyday life.”
Applicants must possess at least a “B” average in math and science classes and submit a guidance counselor's recommendation. The program typically accepts 25 students per phase and three students per research assistant program. Applications are due April 30. Visit rvamep.org for more information and to apply.
Photo courtesy VCU Discovery
It’s not often that children can view a live surgery, make pizza from scratch, go electrofishing and play the vibraphone in one summer. But all that is possible at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Discovery summer program, which gives rising sixth- through eighth-graders the chance to inquire and create as they investigate the world around them.
Discovery offers full-day, weeklong camps that explore in-depth topics in science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics and health sciences (STEAM-H). Classes are taught by VCU faculty members, students and local professionals in classrooms and laboratories on VCU’s Monroe Park and medical campuses.
With past classes including “Animation, Game On!” (video-game creation), “Adventures in Medical Careers” and “Everyday Engineering,” as well as classes in dentistry, culinary arts, fashion and even cryptography, students are exposed to topics that expand their awareness of STEAM-H careers. Students also can participate in the extended-day Healthy Lifestyles program, which includes swimming, tennis, rock climbing and more.
One of the program’s goals is to give students an alternative learning experience surrounded by a diverse group of children. “Interacting with different cultures helps build emotional intelligence, helping you to understand yourself better and successfully engage with others,” says Shekinah Mitchell, Discovery and Youth Program quality intervention coordinator. She says middle schoolers are coming into a sense of self, the optimal time for them to engage with other diverse youth.
Mitchell added that, according to last summer’s evaluation data, 84 percent of Discovery students agreed that they would be able to use ideas from the program in the upcoming school year, and 92 percent agreed that they were exiting the program with an idea of how people use the skills they practiced in their career. Visit mfyc.vcu.edu/summer-programs/discovery for more information.
CodeVA Eureka Workshop
(Photo by Maggie Smith, courtesy of CodeVA)
As a nonprofit organization that trains educators to teach computer science in public schools, you could say the folks at CodeVA know the topic well. The program’s Eureka Workshop summer camps operate under a similar mission, which is to teach children concepts in computer science and computational thinking that aren’t typically taught in class.
These camps are more than web surfing and coding — Eureka Workshop’s weeklong programs combine science and art to teach children in grades 1-8 through creative, hands-on activities. In “Amazing Animation,” students apply the concepts of CGI to create stories with green-screen photography and stop-motion animation. In “Critter Code,” students, using the programming software Scratch, make original characters come to life in various forms, from paper to a sock puppet to, lastly, a digital “sprite.” Students usually come away from each camp with a completed digital project, whether it’s a virtual game or an animated short film.
Looking beyond the summer, CodeVA is a planning partner for a new “computer science high school” in the Richmond area, initiated via a high school innovation planning grant through the Virginia Department of Education. Operating under similar practices as a governor’s school, the program will accept high school students from across 13 school districts based on a lottery system. Program leaders hope to have students participating in the program by next school year.
CodeVA Executive Director Chris Dovi (a former Richmond magazine contributor) emphasizes the importance of computer science, saying it’s “the language of STEM education” because it gives scientists and engineers the foundational tools to solve problems. The sooner children begin to learn these concepts, he says, the better.
“It’s estimated that 70 percent or more of STEM-related jobs are computer science jobs, and we have thousands available here in the commonwealth that can’t be filled because there aren’t enough qualified applicants,” Dovi says. “It is very likely that whatever job children apply for in the future, it will require a level of understanding of computer science.”
For more information visit codevirginia.org.
Mad Science of Central Virginia
(Photo courtesy of Mad Science of Central Virginia)
Exploring the cosmos, building a robot and navigating a laboratory are just a few of the things possible when participating in a Mad Science of Central Virginia summer camp.
With more than 30 years of experience, Mad Science engages 6.5 million children annually in more than 160 markets around the world. Its mission is to spark the curiosity of children by providing fun, entertaining and educational activities that instill a clear understanding of what science is and how it affects the world around them. It offers a range of camps at more than eight locations in Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico counties and Richmond.
Mad Science builds on partnerships with organizations including NASA, Scholastic, Rube Goldberg Inc., and Time Entertainment Inc. to provide 11 themed weeklong summer camp programs for grades 1-6. Activities include creating constellations in an indoor planetarium in “NASA Academy,” constructing a six-foot geodesic dome made of newspaper in “Operation Exploration” and building light sabers in “Eureka! Inventor’s Camp.” The company also offers “Red Hot Robots,” in which students learn the fundamentals of robotics, then build their own robot to take home.
Mad Science of Central Virginia’s “Chief Mad Scientist” Ali Nelson says that campers love putting the concepts they’ve learned into practice. Many return to take the same camps every year, she says.
“In an age when science programs are being cut or under-funded, our STEM-aligned programs provide unequaled science enrichment, encouraging children to discover the world around them and to pursue careers in science,” Nelson says.
The program offers morning and full-day programs at multiple locations, and extended care is available until 5:30 p.m. Discounts are available for multi-camp/sibling participants and the Early Bird registration cut-off is April 1. Visit centralva.madscience.org/camp for more information.
(Photo courtesy of MSI: Richmond)
Not your average summer camp, only students who exhibit “great academic promise” from Richmond Public Schools are accepted into the Math Science Investigators (MSI) Richmond program.
This program, hosted at the University of Richmond, aims to increase the number of urban students who want to pursue careers as math and science professionals.
MSI offers a five-week summer session for rising eighth- and ninth-graders in which a class of 12 to 15 students works closely with UR faculty, staff and students, as well as other professionals and peers. Classes are conducted in UR’s classrooms and laboratories, where students engage in hands-on research and experiments. Other highlights include STEM-focused career workshops, presentations and field trips.
For rising 10th-graders, MSI offers a five-week research program. Current UR undergraduates and faculty mentor the students as they conduct research in biology, chemistry, physics, psychology or computer science research labs. At the end, the students give a formal presentation on their experience, and those who complete the program receive a $500 stipend.
“This year, we will be working with 60 students who will work on science in the classroom, and 16 students who will work with our faculty on actual research programs,” says David Kitchen, associate dean at the School of Professional and Continuing Studies. “We can’t wait to encourage these talented young people to continue their STEM education on to university.”
To be considered for either program, students must have at least a “B” average in science, math and English courses and a letter of recommendation. Those applying for the mentor program must have completed honors, AP and IB courses in math, science, English and psychology and must complete an interview. Applications are due April 9, and accepted students will be notified May 15. For more information and to apply, visit education.richmond.edu/MSI-Richmond.