Dancing robots and rocket launchers were just a few of the creations Loudoun County students made this week.
Now in its seventh year, the Loudoun County Public Schools STEM camp provides kids in grades four through nine with the opportunity to explore the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
For 9-year-old Maddie Binkley, of Leesburg Elementary School, the best part about the camp was learning the scientific process. “I’ve just always liked science,” she said. “If [anyone is] interested in science, they should come here. We’re able to make chemicals and play with robotics; it’s a lot of fun.”
Fun seemed to be a common phrase among the campers, including 13-year-olds CJ Camachi and Rohan Bajpai of Smart’s Mill Middle School. “It’s good,” CJ said. “[The camp] progressively gets more detailed as it goes on,” Bajpai added.
But the kids aren’t the only ones who enjoy the camp. Gertrude Okyere, a teacher at Sully Elementary School in Sterling, is now in her fourth year as a camp instructor. She said the best part about the camp is the freedom it gives to students.
“It’s the freedom to create,” she said. “The freedom to make mistakes and the freedom to fix them. We’re trying to create a generation of people who can do that.”
The camp takes place at two locations, Sterling and Smart’s Mill Middle School, over the course of two weeks. Pat Herr, an LCPS science teacher and one of the camp’s leaders, said the program has grown tremendously since it first began. “Seven years ago, we had 30 kids and two grade levels,” she said. “We now have 300 kids.”
From force and motion to biomimicry (imitating nature to solve human problems), the camp tailors the activities to the students’ grade level. “What we’re giving them is not what they’ve had in school, but what they’re going to get,” Herr said. “They go into class with experience behind them.”
The camp is more than just made-up scenarios. It involves a lot of problem-solving, and many of the missions and assignments are based on real-life events and experiences, such as natural disasters and the mortality rate of bees. “[With] everything we’ve done here, we give [the students] the real experience out in the world,” Herr said.
Each year, the camp tries to incorporate the latest tech-savvy learning tools. This year’s included 3D printers and doodlers. “We want the kids to be exposed to the new technology as much as possible and be able to use it,” Herr said.
With two former STEM campers now enrolled in the Loudoun Academy of Science and another bunch taking home Science Olympiad competition awards, Herr said she’s excited to see what the future holds for the students enrolled this summer. “We’ve seen them excel at school,” Herr said. “It’s exciting to see where they’re going.”
The majority of the camp is funded by Howard Hughes Medical School and organized with the help of the school system’s Science Department.
The STEM camp is an invite-only program. Principals from the schools nominate and select students to participate.
“The camp is for kids who are interested in science and math that haven’t necessarily had an enrichment experience,” Herr said. “They’re kids who wouldn’t necessarily get a camp experience.”