Students at the Boys and Girls Club of Pike County learned on Wednesday that science is not only interesting and fun, but can also be tasty.
The students, who over the last two weeks have taken part in the Power Up with STEM Camp, took to the outdoors to put their self-made solar ovens to the test by cooking s’mores using the heat of south Alabama sunshine.
The camp was one of two sessions planned for the summer, representing a partnership between Troy University, South Alabama Electric Cooperative, PowerSouth, John Weis of NASA and the Boys and Girls Club of Pike County. Under the direction of professors and teacher candidates in the University’s Department of Teacher Education, the camp focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics and energy education for children in grades two through five.
“The STEM activity related to the solar energy was the pizza box oven to cook the s’mores,” said Jessica Moran, lecturer in TROY’s Department of Teacher Education. “The students from the Boys and Girls Club were involved in the engineering and design process of the pizza box ovens. We started on Tuesday and had the opportunity to test it and improve on it.”
Moran said it has been exciting to see the students truly engage in the projects that have focused on various forms of energy.
“The kids have really enjoyed it. They have been very engaged and don’t feel threatened by the math and science,” she said. “You can see them charting it in their journals, so that is really neat. Our TROY students have been able to get some hands-on experience and relate it back to their class assignments on the campus.”
Moran hopes the camp will inspire the students to see how all subjects can be related.
“The ultimate goal is for the students to be life-long learners and to think of math, science, English and social studies as being related,” she said. “When you find something you are really interested in, you can put it all together and find applications across the different subjects.”
The integrated and hand-on approach has been a key component of the camp, said Dr. Fred Figliano, assistant professor within the Division of Teacher Education at TROY.
“What we are trying to do with this project is to infuse those concepts with these students and the integrated nature of STEM – how the four disciplines work with each other in solving real-world problems,” he said. “Most of the time in school, students are taught silo STEM, where first period may be science and second period may be math. We are looking at the integrative nature of the four disciplines, and I think we have succeeded in showing these students how they work together.”
Dr. Ruth Busby, chair of the Division of Teacher Education, said the project was beneficial for the children, the community and the TROY teacher candidates who assisted.
“This innovative project has truly been a win-win,” Dr. Busby said. “We know that students miss a lot of their learning during the summer when they are out of school, so we wanted to try to bridge that gap through this STEM camp. We also wanted to provide our teacher candidates with the opportunity to get some field experience with their teaching. We also wanted to increase awareness of STEM-related careers, particularly with minorities and girls. We know there has been a tremendous amount of enthusiasm with this project and we know that learning has been occurring. The students at the Boys and Girls Club have been a joy to work with.”
For TROY graduate student Lauren Brown, assisting with the camp was a rewarding experience.
“This has been super rewarding,” Brown said. “Just to see the excitement on all the kids’ faces has been great. I’m so impressed with how the students are able to retain so much information. Science and math is a part of everyday life; there is no getting away from it. It so important for these students to be aware of it and it is very rewarding to see them get excited about these projects.”
For the campers, the last two weeks have provided the opportunity to learn, have fun and meet new friends.
“We have learned a lot,” rising fourth-grader Jakobi Hines said. “It has been fun the last couple of weeks because we got to meet a lot of new people. I’m excited for next month.”
A second session, which will focus on other forms of energy including wind and coal, will take place in July.