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Students Experience S.T.E.M. Hands On

By Amanda Morad | July 2, 2014

Students at S.T.E.M. Camp 2014

It's a question that often drives parents of young children crazy: "What if...?" But when the scenario that follows those two little words explores the worlds of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, Regent University calls it S.T.E.M. Camp.

For the fourth year in a row, Regent's Martinson Center for Mathematics and Science brought a five-day adventure into S.T.E.M. for elementary-aged students in third, fourth and fifth grades.

Running June 23-27, the camp encouraged "What ifs?" and fostered curiosity, creativity and scientific methodology. Wendy Ann Hinch and Beverly Steeman, both teachers in the Virginia Beach Public School System, taught the camp under the direction of Dr. Jenny Sue Flannagan, associate professor in Regent's School of Education and director of the Martinson Center. This is both Hinch and Steeman's second year teaching S.T.E.M. camp.

"I teach S.T.E.M. camp because I like that the students can test and retest according to their own hypotheses," Hinch explained. "I like to see what they can explore on their own. So much of education today is standardized and rigid, but a camp like this gives students a chance to be creative and to explore what they want to do."

Steeman agreed. "We're trying to throw out ideas to them and have them extend their thinking," she said. "That's the whole goal, to be thinking for themselves, truly acting like scientists and taking the concept we give them and extend it, change it, ask questions, try again and explore."

The seasoned elementary school teachers developed the content of the camp with Dr. Flannagan based on the four basic areas of S.T.E.M., but have tailored the activities closely to match the interests of the students.

"It's nice because we don't have a set curriculum that we have to follow, and we can spend more time on experimentation," Hinch noted.

One of the challenges of an academic camp with this age group is getting everyone on the same page. With students coming from each of the seven cities in Hampton Roads and from both the public and private school systems, there are variations in what knowledge students come to camp with. But Hinch and Steeman combat that variation with flexibility.

"We really want to show them as much as we can in such a short period of time," Steeman said. "Our biggest challenge is finishing one activity and moving on to the next, because the kids get so engrossed in what they're doing.

"We run out of time almost every day, but we try to extend the learning by telling them how to try these experiments at home. Most of our activities and the ingredients involved are very simple."

Some of the activities require adult supervision or participation, like their experimentation with the chemical properties of dry ice or observing solar bags as they inflate in the sun. But some activities are as simple as challenging students to create with a basic set of supplies.

"For one activity, I said, 'Here's paper, paper clips, tape and string. Build the tallest tower you can.' And they loved it because they're learning to think like engineers and designers," Hinch recalled.

From exploding Coke with Mentos to balancing books on eggs, S.T.E.M. Camp is all about critical thinking and pushing students to think for themselves.

"It's great when they can take an activity that we've given them and question themselves to see what will happen when they change things," Hinch said. "They're using their metacognition—thinking about their thinking."

"One student said to me, 'Isn't it cool how you gave us all the same things, but we each came up with such different ways of doing it?' And that really sums up what S.T.E.M. is," Steeman explained. "We're giving them the basics, and they use their brains to come up with the experiments. They ask the questions and we explore the solutions together."

Learn more about the Martinson Center.

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Mindy Hughes, Public Relations

Phone: 757.352.4095 Fax: 757.352.4888

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