Some Kids Do Just Love Circuitry

Every summer we see more and more families looking for summer camps, youth sports and an array of activities to keep their children engaged, growing, and learning. For some families, summer is a time to add enriching activities to their children’s lives that were not available during the school year. Summer camps with crafts and outdoor activities seem to be an American tradition that stretches back decades, if not close to a century. 

Most Americans have vivid childhood memories of summer camps involving activities like amusement parks, archery, sports clinics, and animal husbandry. Summer school of the past was strictly offered for children who were behind in units and needed to make them up in the summer. Many have wondered if this was done to help them, or in the opinions of the children – to punishing them. Summer programs today can be used to launch children forward and utilized to awaken their perhaps sleeping interests in the natural world of physics and astronomy or the chemistry of cooking and the mathematical perfection of a pinecone. 

Summer is notoriously a time for children to expand in areas of personal interests and hobbies. An important question to ask ourselves in today’s climate first, do our children who have a natural interest in STEM have access to the materials they need in order to grow and expand? While torque and angular acceleration might not be the hobby arena of the masses, we don’t want to pass over the children whose interests are here. We have all heard the common saying – “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” Secondly, are children given access to STEM-based activities such as kits for making circuits, microscopes, math games and puzzles, the periodic table of elements and the anatomy of plants and animals? STEM in summer can alight curiosity and be a perfect time to explore how fire changes chemical composition.   

Not one of us nature lovers escaped the devices we are now reading on. STEM careers are something we must help our children to be prepared for and cultivate as a lifestyle. Even with this reality, it is well known that curiosity and wonder are the best engines of education and progress. STEM is often stereotyped as something only for the most gifted students to pursue. At times it can even be ported as an educational path for children of wealthy families exclusively. Unfortunately, due to lack of funding and access to equipment, this has been the case for some. This issue is something Learners Today Leaders Tomorrow addresses and changes through Southern California. As parents and educators have been hearing for the better part of the past century, the careers of the future are in STEM, and there is a growing awareness that the use of “T”, aka technology, is necessary for all careers. 

What does this mean for our children, we would like to move away from some of the stereotypes and start to look at Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math holistically; as an educational perspective to imbibe through life, or even as a lifestyle. Becoming a lifelong learner contributes to the overall quality of life, many studies are even suggesting longevity as one of the benefits. Becoming a lifelong learner is a catchall that basically touches every part of a person’s life and improves it. Some of the benefits are even higher brain function into the later years of life, equaling a prolonged higher quality of life into later years. So, uncover that inner curiosity, or, if it is fresh as it is in childhood don’t let it get covered up! What does this necessarily have to do with STEM you might be wondering? Well, some of the greatest inventions to benefit mankind were not part of a for-profit company, they were created by lifelong learners exploring solutions in demand to the woes of their era.   

Let us look at insulin, for example, a group of four men created this drug that has saved and prolonged the lives of thousands of people. After its creation they sold the patent to a university for $1.00, the university then sold it to manufacturers who did what businesses do and marked it up. However, the actual creation of penicillin was not hatched out of a for-profit mindset, it came from inquisitive, philanthropic scientists working in their spare and personal time to benefit society. These four men had open and curious minds and the desire to help mankind. 

While it is true that educational paths in STEM typically lead to higher paying jobs, it is also true that many philanthropic individuals use their skills in STEM primarily to innovate. This has allowed humankind to thrive and has drastically affected the world today. The first flushing toilet for example was created by Sir John Harrington in the late 1580s or early 1590s for personal use. He then gifted one to Queen Elizabeth the First. Our current plumbing systems are a patchwork quilt of technology that has been added to throughout human history by the Romans, and their Greek ancestors. The Mechanical genius of wastewater management has undoubtedly curbed many plagues and allowed us to flourish across the globe.

The first phase of becoming a lifelong learner is giving children the gift of opportunity. They need access to play, explore, and develop a passion in the STEM arenas. To engage and innovate, children first and foremost need a solid platform of basic math and science skills. Children can only begin self-lead discovery from this platform. Some studies are finding that students with lower math skills learn science better in a class setting that is teacher-led. Do the cures of our future depend on the initial groundwork of teaching math and science basics? Studies are showing that this is very likely the case.  Summer is a rare and precious opportunity to support children by adding layers to their groundwork of math and science fundamentals. 

How do students best learn science? A study done by Marc Schwartz discovered that learners thrive when they can spend a month or more diving into a single focused area of science. This style of deeper study in science topics benefits the students for years to come and can even be tracked into their college grades. In a busy year of state standards and preparation for exams, our youth can’t get these opportunities to abandon the necessities of test preparation and dive deeply into one arena of science. in Summer they can. Studies also show that hands-on learning of science is far better than lecture-style learning. For many teachers this is always a challenge to create, in a standard school year classroom this can be even harder, summer school is the perfect environment for hands-on and deep-focused learning. This is just another reason why science, math, engineering, and technology are very needed by our youth in standard summer school. This is needed not only for children who are low in math and science but also for children who will someday pull the rest of us into the future. 

Using technology to learn has shown to be challenging for younger students. Figuring out how to incorporate technology in the classroom of younger ages, in a meaningful way, when students need support to use it requires focus and creativity from educators. In response to this, there is a growing trend to encourage teachers to use more and more technology whenever possible as the methodology is developed. Allowing students to “design and innovate” according to iste.org is one effective solution to this. It seems technology, the “T” in STEM that can often be forgotten about, brings out the best in young learners when they are allowed to be creative. 

Parents and educators know all too well that come early fall most students don’t retain perfectly what they have learned the prior year. STEM in summer school is like a double win, not only can we use technology to keep reviewing what children have learned in the prior school year, but also this opens the door for students to stride ahead in the most important skills of STEM which are often cross-curricular thus creating the perfect solution for helping students retain learning from all subjects. 

Strong STEM programs in summer school would be life-altering for children who are at risk of falling behind, children with IEPs, advanced students who are launching into the future curriculum, and all students capable of creativity. STEM programs are a way to broaden the base knowledge of our future innovators and encourage the curiosity that has always led to life-altering solutions and technologies.