Choosing the Right STEM Camp for the Summer!

“Mama, I want to do this summer STEM camp because I’ll get to play with robots!” said Johnny.

“What is it about? Maybe…? How much does it cost? Is it worth it?” Johnny’s mom thought.

When summer vacation approaches, advertisements on various STEM summer camps can be attractive. If your child is interested in STEM for the summer like Johnny, or if you are a teacher and being asked for STEM camp suggestions, how can you help the children choose the best fit?

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First of All, Robots are not Equal to STEM

Just because a summer camp flyer shows a happy 7-year-old playing with a robot, it does not mean the camp is designed the best way for your child. Jusr a reminder, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEM is a collective skillset that gets carried out through computational thinking, creativity, teamwork, and many other skills. Read about the key skillset here.

A robotics (or coding) camp would be a good fit for kids who want to be introduced to what it is. Set the expectations with your children that completing a robotics camp helps them understand a small part of how a robot works, but it does not mean they’ll be able to build a robot that can clean their rooms. It’ll also expose them to only a small part of STEM.

Completing a robotics camp does not check off the “my child knows STEM” box!

Advertisements might make a technology camp look like that’s all your child needs to do to know STEM well. But before committing to a camp based on just the advertisement, ask about the coaches’ background in STEM, coaching approach, resources, and what the children could be expected to learn in the camp.

Camps that Provide Less Technology are the Best

When a camp provides fancy technology to the students, it can take many key aspects of the learning away. I’m not saying that camps that provide the fancy technology (3D printing, robots, etc.) don’t teach STEM well. Kids get attracted to the convenience of technology. While playing with the technology, they often overlook the underlying theories, and the WHY and HOW behind the actual STEM aspects.

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If the coaching in a camp is not well monitored, then the camp would only appear to teach STEM. But in reality, the learning might not be as much as a conventional science camp, where kids are introduced to the fundamentals that are applied in various fields, rather just to play with another set of toys.

Case Study

Comparing two camps that advertise Summer STEM programs:

Camp A: Cutting-edge Robotics Technology for Kids

versus

Camp B: Let’s See What We Can Build From Scrap Materials

Camp A is like a five-star restaurant, where good food (in this case, technology) is ready for enjoyment. Camp B is like a farmer’s market, where you pick your own ingredients and come up with your own delicious dishes. Which one gives you the convenience to enjoy? And which one would you learn more cooking from?

So, which camp do you think your child will learn more STEM concepts and approaches from?

I would send my kids to Camp B, so they learn that they need to figure out how much materials are needed, how to sketch to mirrored imaged wings for an airplane, how to put two wires together, why things they build don’t work, why eye-balling a measurement never works, etc, etc, etc…

Wait! Before saying yes to a STEM camp, is your child’s math on track?

Math is the Foundation

STEM builds upon math. Being ready for the next level of math when school starts is way more important than spending a month or two in a camp. When the child is up to speed in Math, then all the other STEM topics will become meaningful because advanced concepts in Science and Engineering can only be explained with Math.

If the camp teaches the correct way, then hopefully the students learn the applications and importance of math from the projects. Unfortunately, most pretty-looking camps don’t do that. And that’s misleading to the children and the parents what’s really important in STEM.

Bottom Line

Depending on your child’s needs, summer STEM time (or any STEM time) should focus on developing the right skills that are most important for the individual. Take care of the Math first. If a STEM camp is in your child’s interest, then look for something that’ll really challenge your child’s creativity and problem solving skills, with or without fancy technology.

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