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Teaching virtual STEM camp ‘rewarding and powerful’ for Semiahmoo Secondary students

60 elementary students signed up to learn online and do hands-on experiements
A group of students from Semiahmoo Secondary kicked off their summer by presenting a virtual STEM camp for South Surrey elementary students. Each of the 60 young participants received a box of items which allowed them to re-create experiments at home, while learning online. (Contributed photo)

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics – not what most kids are thinking about as they head out to enjoy their summer vacation.

But 60 elementary students from across South Surrey spent the first week of their break learning about the pillars of STEM, during a virtual camp led by a group of Semiahmoo Secondary students, June 28-July4.

Last March, Semiahmoo’s Aimee Wang, Casey Takahashi, Jiyu Kim, Joey Zhou, Katherine Li, and Tony Zong began planning a virtual STEM summer camp for elementary students.

“With the goal of overturning dull impressions of science and math, our team decided to take a hands-on approach to teaching complicated science concepts,” Li wrote in an email to Peace Arch News.

“(Three) months and a few weeks later, we finally completed our Semiahmoo Summer STEM program.”

The hands-on lessons were offered virtually, with the program split into two main components. The first consisted of demonstrations and imparting conceptual knowledge, while the second involved experimental investigation, where the kids could apply what they’d learned during the first hour.

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The secondary students, who are part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, put together boxes containing project materials for each student to take home. These included common household items, such as food colouring and rubber bands, as well as harder-to-find materials, like UV beads and iron filings. A $15 dollar fee covered the materials.

With a goal of introducing the practical side of science in the midst of a pandemic, the team diverged from a traditional approach, combining an online webinar with the interactive aspects of an in-person summer camp.

“The material box each student took home made the whole experience more fun for us and the kids, as they could follow along to everything we were doing from the comfort of their own homes,” Li wrote.

The idea was to introduce challenging concepts – for instance, electromagnetism and buoyancy – to elementary students in a way they could understand, while encouraging them to ask “a million questions.”

“Our goal from the very beginning was to create a program that would not only teach kids concepts, but also teach them how to be and stay curious.

“We wanted them to understand through doing rather than listening blankly while we talked for hours non-stop. We wanted our program to be a safe space where kids could show off what they know and be vulnerable about what they do not know.”

It’s a goal the high school students believe they achieved. Not only that, but in the process, they helped create a valuable sense of connection during a challenging time.

The lack of personalized attention and social interaction caused by COVID has impacted everyone in different ways, Li said.

“This feeling of just doing something together, even if it was as simple as solving a math riddle or mashing bananas for an experiment, was rewarding and powerful.”

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A group of students from Semiahmoo Secondary kicked off their summer by presenting a virtual STEM camp for elementary students. (Contributed photo)

Brenda Anderson

About the Author: Brenda Anderson

Brenda Anderson is editor of the Peace Arch News.
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