Tale of Two Camps:
How Two Central Texas School Districts are Transforming Learning Through Summer STEM Camps
How can we help students become competitive in the future workforce while reducing the summer slide? How can we help pique student interests and inspire them to explore topics in science, technology, engineering, and math? Two Central Texas school districts have hosted summer STEM camps to build student curiosity and creativity in topics that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to explore. In recent summers, students at the Killeen Independent School District and Copperas Cove Independent School District have had the opportunity to attend STEM camps to informally build skills, engage in design thinking, and find joy in learning. While taking different approaches, these two districts are achieving similar results: inspiring learners.
The 2018 report by the Committee on STEM Education, which is composed of members from government agencies and departments invested in STEM education, outlined goals and a vision for STEM education for the upcoming years. The goals are to build strong foundations for STEM literacy, increase diversity and equity in STEM and prepare the future workforce. The report detailed the current state of STEM education in our country, which is growing, but still lagging behind other countries. Additionally, the report proposed a five-year pathway to success, including examples and resources. This report has impacted the goals and work of school district leaders and educators to bolster support for STEM education.That impact can be felt in Killeen and Copperas Cove, Texas and is directly benefiting students in grades K – 8.
In 2017, Dina D’Amore, librarian at Reeces Creek Elementary suggested an innovative change to a traditional summer library program that had waning participation and attendance by students. Collaboratively with a team of talented librarians, assistants and volunteers, STREAM Camp was developed. The team designed creative, fun, and challenging activities to be implemented across five locations for over two hundred students in grades kindergarten through eighth grades during the first two weeks of June. Throughout the three half-day sessions of STREAM camp, students engaged in coding with Scratch, observed robotics demonstrations, programmed Dash, Ozobot, and Sphero robots. Additionally, they engaged in science experiments such as the Magic Milk Experiment, as well as crafts like jewelry making, and video projects using green screens. Because the camps were held in libraries it was a natural fit to integrate literature connections with the STEM exploration. Students started their gaze listening to books such as:
The first year of STREAM camp was supported by a small existing budget for the previous traditional library program. Therefore, the camp activities were implemented with existing technology and tools that were available, with a small budget for purchasing consumable supplies. The following year, the camp expanded to include an additional location and serve over one hundred more students. This was a direct result of positive survey results submitted by students and parents. Consequently, the school district was able to invest additional funds to support the camp.
Third year of STREAM camp brought significant growth and challenges. During the school year 2019-2020, STREAM camp did not occur due to the pandemic and school closures. The following year, in an attempt to supplement unfinished learning, STREAM Camp was significantly expanded, which increased the budget. The improved budget allowed the team of librarians to serve virtual learners and incorporate additional valuable materials such as Kiwi kits and 3D printing. Including virtual learners required careful planning and coordination. The team creatively implemented STEM challenges (include details of a challenge here) which could be accomplished using everyday upcycled materials that virtual learners may have at home. That summer Killeen ISD was able to host STREAM camp as one choice of a variety of camps.
The summer STEM camp in Copperas Cove ISD evolved under completely different circumstances, but still yielded positive results. In 2019 the district was awarded a $750,000 grant from DoDEA called Copperas Cove Codes. The summer STEM camp is only one resulting activity supported by the grant. The success of the grant initiative is to be measured by increased math scores of students in grades 6, 7, and 8. The activities and data measured will be ongoing until 2024. Some of the differences of the camps are that:
- The CCISD summer STEM camp has significant solid funding that is sustainable for at least two more years.
- The success of the camp is to be measured with actionable data in the form of test scores.
- The CCISD camp activities were designed by an organization called the National Inventors Hall of Fame, which includes an all-inclusive program with a curriculum, schedule and supplies called Project Invention.
- The first year of summer STEM camp served seventy-two students in grades 6 – 8
While each district has taken different approaches to providing challenging and engaging summer STEM learning opportunities for students, we do see several similarities in the camps:
- They were each designed to help students find the joy in learning and enhance their regular classroom instruction.
- Both camps included the conscious thought process proposed by Roger Schank’s research, Teaching Minds (prediction, modeling, experimentation)
- Both camps will continue for the upcoming summer of 2022
- Both camps will positively affect students with outcomes that may not be realized until adulthood.
- Essentially the camps were meant to inspire curiosity and students and help them find the joy in learning with a theme similar to the thoughts of Scratch creator and author of Lifelong Kindergarten, Mitchel Resnick who said,
- “projects, passion, peers, and play. In short, we believe the best way to cultivate creativity is to support people working on projects based on their passions, in collaboration with peers and in a playful spirit.”
Questions to ask while planning successful camps:
- What are the Goals of the camp?
- How will the success of the camp be measured?
- What grade levels will attend the camp?
- How many students will we be able to serve?
- How many staff members will we need to teach and support those learners?
- In which facilities will we host the activities?
- Will transportation be provided?
- Will snacks be provided?
- What is the potential budget of the camp?
- Is this type of camp sustainable for multiple years?
- Will we design our own activities and camp, or will we purchase a program to host our camp?
- Will we be able to invite any guest presenters or experts?
- What sort of accommodations will we need to consider for students with special needs?
Digital and Hands-On Resources for do-it-yourself camps:
- Dash Robots
- Sphero Robots
- Little Bits
- Lego coding Kits
- Makey Makey Kits
- Hummingbird Duo Kits
- Dremel 3D printers
- Kiwi Kits
- Kibo Kits – Kinderlab Robotics
- Extraordinaires Design Studio Kits
- Craft supplies
- Upcycled materials
- Consumable supplies
Works in progress:
- More info about measurable data for CCISD Junior High Students here
- Placeholder for link to video for Killeen ISD Camp
- Call to action video for Killeen ISD STREAM Camp
- Placeholder for link to video for Copperas Cove ISD Camp
TCEA Guest blog posts require:
- One high-resolution image: There are 4 possible images to use linked on the ePortfolio. Photos courtesy of Todd Martin, Killeen ISD
- A brief author bio:
Holly Landez, the new Director of Digital Learning and Innovation at Copperas Cove ISD has over 27 years in the field of education, with 17 years of supporting learners with technology. Holly is passionate about helping teachers discover new digital tools and strategies to enhance learning. It is her mission to help students recognize their strengths while exploring new interests, particularly in STEM topics.
Committee on STEM Education of the National Science & Technology Council (2018) Charting a course for success: America’s strategy for STEM education
Resnick, M., & Robinson, K. (2018). Lifelong kindergarten: Cultivating creativity through projects, passion, peers, and play. The MIT Press.
Teaching minds: How cognitive science can save our schools. Roger Schank. (n.d.). Retrieved February 5, 2022, from https://www.rogerschank.com/teaching-minds-how-cognitive-science-can-save-our-schools
Sledd, W. (2021, July 7). DoDEA grant funds Stem summer camp for Cove students. Killeen Daily Herald. Retrieved February 4, 2022, from https://kdhnews.com/fort_hood_herald/across_the_fort/dodea-grant-funds-stem-summer-camp-for-cove-students/article_449aa0ea-de9c-11eb-91d1-bfb9774766cd.html.
- How can I best express that STREAM camp primarily served elementary students, with a few older students. For the third year, middle school students had their own special section of camp.
- Which details can I trim down to fit the 800 word limit of the TCEA guest blog post and balance the stories of each district?
- Should I consider a different publication that would allow more text?
- How can I best fit in the planning considerations and list of supplies and resources?