By Tom Poland
Hands-On Learning, Real Learning, Fun Learning
The blue lake, white sands, and green trees of summer camps live on as I recall days at Rock Eagle 4-H Camp. I dare not mention the mosquitoes but canoeing methods, crafts, and tree identification broadened my skills. But hindsight’s 20-20. I work with words. If only I could have attended a creative writing camp, you’d be reading a better writer. Too late for me, but not for South Carolina students. They can apply to exciting camps and better see their future.
Daffodils and redbuds say spring is coming and summer camps will follow. In Hartsville, that town of Kalmia Gardens fame, the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Math is a public residential high school for 11th and 12th grade students. Its Outreach Center has designed Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math camps that expand younger students’ vision and knowledge. STEM camps fall into three camps, pun intended, with cool names befitting this digital era: iTeams Xtreme Next Generation, CREATEng, and GoSciTech. A vision for hands-on learning becomes reality.
We didn’t have summer academic camps but we had special programs after Sputnik ushered in the space age. I wanted to become a scientist but no summer science camps existed. Too bad. Summer camps make bright kids brighter. It’s not fluff. It’s difficult but fun, and so is making new friends. My Sputnik soul mates and I had no innovative Governor’s School. Today’s students do.
Randall M. LaCross, GSSM vice president for Outreach and Global Initiatives, applauds the collaborative, interactive camps. “Our summer camps appeal to students who want to challenge themselves, make new friends, and explore the STEM world.”
The camps also provide a way for GSSM to give back to the state for its support. For over two decades, South Carolina students have challenged themselves at GSSM summer camps. The payoff? A clearer view of academic and career goals and a better self image. The ratio of 15 students to one teacher fosters an interactive, engaging environment. Consider what students say.
“One thing I really liked about my GoSciTech class is that after each topic we discussed, we did a hands-on activity, cool and interesting labs and dissections.”
Said another, “This was an awesome experience. I’m so glad I took this course. Before I took it, I was certain I wasn’t interested in a career in engineering but now I certainly am interested.”
Parents speak out as well. “This was a wonderful experience all in all. It truly helped reignite my daughter’s interest in math and she felt a true sense of belonging which high-achieving kids in public schools don’t always have. She walked away more confident in who she is and excited about the possibilities math can offer in the future.”
We can’t leave out instructors. “Students enjoy working with mBots and seeing the code they make ‘come to life.’ ” Said another, “I loved that so many said they really learned to be better at problem solving after all the activities.” And another, “I enjoy seeing the ‘productive struggle’ each year with the students.”
In my day we struggled on without summer camps. Not so today. A student can become a technology rock star with iTEAMS Xtreme Next Generation. Rising 6th, 7th, and 8th graders who like robotics and game design programming can explore computational thinking and microcontroller skills through one of two tracks. They’ll program their very own microcontrolled robot and pit it against other students’ robots in Maze Runner and Robot Wars competitions. Sounds a bit like a movie. Students can investigate game design as they create and play 2D and 3D multiplatform games in camp-wide competitions.
Back in my era, we watched Sputnik and dreamed of building rockets. We could have been engineers given a chance. Today’s kids get that chance. CREATEng, GSSM’s one-of-a-kind engineering/design thinking day camp, is for rising 7th, 8th, and 9th graders. Students assume the role of NASA engineers charged with establishing a sustainable colony on Mars. Imagine that. Sure beats Sputnik. Hands-on activities teach students what engineering is and what engineers do. While focusing on civil, biomedical, and aerospace engineering, students design structures to protect human life from Mars’s harsh environment. Students discuss topics with guest speakers and see engineering in action. For instance, students watched engineers planning the Ravanel Bridge in Charleston.
GoSciTech provides real learning and a taste of college life for rising 8th, 9th, and 10th graders. Students live on GSSM’s campus where they overcome challenges at a weeklong STEM camp. GoSciTech, its 30th year, gives them an unmatched opportunity to explore endless possibilities in science, technology, engineering, and math. Thirty subjects—from Animal Science & Behavior to 3D Design and Modeling—offer options. Students who can’t pick just one topic can attend for up to four weeks. As college, university, GSSM professors, and professionals lead courses, the future reveals itself.
An experience like that in my time would have been unbelievable. Not once did I get a chance to pursue summer learning. Just jobs. Well things change and today’s students can attend summer camps so good that Google supported one. What better year than 2020 to see the possibilities.
Satellite camps run from 8:30 a.m. till 4:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday, in thirteen counties. Each camp accommodates about 60 students with local teachers participating. Residential camp runs from 9:00 a.m. till 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, at the GSSM campus. Each class accommodates about 15 to 18 students, and college professors and professionals from throughout South Carolina teach the classes. Here’s another great thing about GSSM summer camps. No mosquitoes, although drones might flit about.
For dates, locations, and details visit www.scgssm.org/camps and email the Outreach Center Program Coordinator, Melissa Hoffman, at [email protected], 843-383-3958. If I were the parent of a bright student, I’d apply now. Camps fill quickly and they make great stepping-stones. GSSM’s graduates work for NASA, Exxon, IBM, and Apple, and that’s more than noteworthy. It’s the future delivered today.
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