By Andrew Cluley- AAPS Communications Specialist
It’s not just the hot weather that has been steaming up Ann Arbor this week, many of Community Education and Recreation’s summer learning camps are STEAMing up young student minds as well. Of course that’s in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math sense of STEAM. Children from kindergarten through fifth grade are participating in four different STEAM camps at Clague Middle School. Red Hot Robots, A Wealth of Health, Nutty Invent-O-Mania, and Camp Invention are all giving students a chance to learn through hands on programing in a fun environment.
The focus on offering STEAM camps is aligned with Ann Arbor Public Schools expanding STEAM learning opportunities through Project Lead the Way. Rec and Ed’s Manager of Life-Long Learning Kim Smith says these camps can serve as an introduction for Elementary aged students to the hands on, project based learning that is integral to STEAM programs taking place during the school year. “We don’t want students just learning by rote, we want them learning how to be thinkers, and changers, and movers and we want them thinking about how to create, and how to survive in a world that’s more technology based,” Smith says. “The interesting thing is that elementary age group, they’re really excited. They’re so excited to come in and be building their own little robots and to be doing these science projects.”
One of the highlights of these STEAM learning camps is Camp Invention, a program that’s backed by the National Inventors Hall of Fame. There are four separate weeklong versions of this camp each with its own theme. This week’s Camp Invention includes students making a robotic cricket, designing and building their own miniature theme park, reverse engineering various pieces of electronic equipment, and working as scientists in the Camp Invention Lab.
Staff Member Mike Jones says the Epic Park portion of the program lets students use their imagination and demonstrate some science principles at the same time. “They are all trying to figure out ways to work with pulleys, simple machines, trying to apply the knowledge that we learned with creating fun and competing with each other at the same time.”
These camps also offer young students important life skills that will serve them well whether they end up in a STEAM field or other areas. Invention Camp Director Thomas Hill says this includes working in groups and then transitioning to independent work as well. ”Each of them gets the chance to have different roles and responsibilities throughout the week,” he says.
Hill thinks in addition to the campers, the high-school-aged volunteers benefit from these summer programs as well. “Just to watch our young students that are in high school to take on leadership roles, I mean it’s just amazing,” Hill says. He adds all of the staff members at Camp Invention are Ann Arbor graduates that are coming back to serve the district while in college.
Hill believes the STEAM camps can help Ann Arbor Public Schools see which learning modules are the most effective, which could pay big dividends as the district expands its STEAM offerings. “You’re getting some great information on how that curriculum or those programs will work during the school year as you’re making that commitment K-12, you’re getting some feedback in real time as you’re doing the exploratory in the summer program,” Hill says.
While there is a lot of educational value from these summer camps, Rec and Ed’s Kim Smith says the fun is also integrated right into the programs. “They do have an awareness that they are learning because there are “a-ha” moments, but they’re so excited and having fun,” says Smith.
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