The key to a strong STEM camp experience is to present a problem, list the materials needed to solve that problem, then let your children work through the solution by themselves. With a little advance planning, some inexpensive storage boxes, and a stroll around the Internet, you can become Summer STEM Camp Counselor Extraordinaire!
STEM problems include Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics interrelated to investigate a problem or new situation. Here are the steps that STEM teachers use in their classrooms. You can do them, too:
- Present a problem to be investigated.
- Encourage children to read books related to a topic.
- Develop hypotheses regarding the problem.
- Create records and graphs of their experiments.
- Draw conclusions about their findings in a journal.
But first, designate an area in your home specifically for STEM Summer Camp. Your kids will think this is fun, plus it will keep the materials neat and orderly. Here are the basic characteristics of the Home STEM Summer Camp location, which you can personalize to your own home:
- Find a location that is easily supervised by adults (probably not the basement or the child’s bedroom). Consider a corner of the playroom or kitchen.
- Table and chairs
- Storage – shelving or plastic bins (Use a lockable bin if you have preschoolers in the house)
- Bookshelf for reference books
- Adequate lighting
- Adequate ventilation
- Bulletin board or white board (so your little scientist can display successes!)
Next, fill the space with STEM-related supplies. To encourage your little scientist at home, you only need a few items readily available around the house:
- Notebook or marble journal and an empty soup can for pencils and crayons
- Graph paper
- Paint brushes
- Cotton swabs
- Labels or self-stick notes
- Craft sticks
- Rubber bands
- Paper clips
- Ruler and measuring tape
- Construction paper
- Plastic measuring cup and measuring spoons
- Magnifying glass
- Kitchen scale (a bathroom scale is okay, too)
- Thermometer (non-mercury)
- Trash can
- Old newspapers
- Assorted rocks, minerals, and shells collected on walks
- Magnets (you probably have extras on your refrigerator!)
- Seeds, soil, and pots
- 9-volt battery
- Compass (for drawing circles)
- Compass (magnetic)
- Various sizes of blocks, including wedges
- A piece of foam rubber
- Safety goggles for each child (they probably won’t need them, but they’ll think they are cool and provide safety, if needed)
- Camera (encourage the young explorers to document their findings in pictures and words)
- Etc! Add anything else you see around the house that might encourage exploration.
Now the fun begins – start to create an index card file of problems that your young scientists can investigate. Here are three examples:
- What happens when a plant grows without sunlight? Experiment with different types of light, different lengths of light, and different plants. Create a chart of your findings.
- How can you make a ball go slower down a ramp? While it’s easy to make it go faster, it’s not so easy to make it go slower. Measure the speed of the ball with different materials.
- Create a collage of leaves on a piece of construction paper, then place the assembly outside in the sun. Don’t put them all outside at the same time to create a unique effect. Tae the undersides of the leaves to the paper if it is windy. What happens to the construction paper when you lift the leaves after several days in the sun?
And then there’s Bill Nye, the Science Guy – self-proclaimed guru of STEM for children. This is the experiment section of his website: http://billnye.com/?billnyeresourcetax=home-demos Treat these experiements the same way you did with Steve Spangler’s website – present a problem, add the materials needed (possibly throwing in a few red herrings), and let your children explore before you show them the website for the explanation.
Have fun surfing around for more websites that provide creative ways to explore a topic. Again, avoid doing all the work for your children – let them explore on their own so they come to their own conclusions and can proudly record their successes in their journals.
Try introducing weekly themes (Earth and Environmental Science, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Technology and Programming, etc.) Buy into your children’s interests. If they want to investigate physics all summer long, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!
At the end of the summer, consider having your own Science Fair. Invite family and friends for refreshments and a recap of the summer’s experiments – the successes and the failures! Have the family work together to make the snacks (Use the family-oriented recipes in Everybody Cooks! STEM Facts and Recipes for Family Cooperation and Healthier Eating - Holiday Favorites Edition to expand your children’s knowledge of food science.)
Don’t be surprised if this newfound interest in STEM topics carries through to the rest of the year, so be prepared with some fresh new STEM problem cards occasionally. It will be the best investment in time for your children you’ll ever make!
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