Science Camps Designed to Inspire

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Ten-year-old John Coburn was bent over his laptop typing and clicking away. Carefully, he connected a small stuffed “android,” which he sewed out of felt, to his computer, typed a command and watched the android's tiny light-bulb eyes blink faster.

“We’ve been learning programming,” Coburn said. “You really get to work with the wiring, the speakers, the lights, that kind of stuff. It’s great.”

Coburn is one of several hundred students participating in a science camp hosted at The Chapin School on the Upper East Side known as i2Camp. The program is designed to teach middle school students science concepts through experiential classes. Students create robots, dissect sheep brains, and build remote-controlled boats. All the while, instructors correlate these activities with simple science concepts like buoyancy, electrical engineering and computer programming.

i2camp is just one of many science summer camps cropping up around New York City this summer with a curriculum focused on STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. STEM education has become a primary goal in New York State’s educational policy, and these summer camps are just another way for private and public school programs to get more students engaged and excited about science and math.

At the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, for example, professors in the computer science department developed a STEM summer camp that teaches robotics, computer programming and even cybersecurity. Program organizers said they noticed a severe lack of female high school students participating in their annual hack-a-thons for teenagers. So they decided to start a summer camp for high school women interested in programming.

“Getting women involved in these activities over the summer hopefully triggers some enthusiasm, and some interest in the field, so they start looking at it as a potential career,” said Nasir Memon, professor in the computer science department at NYU-Poly and one of the chief organizers of their summer STEM programs.

Jane Lu, a rising senior who attended NYU-Poly’s cyber security summer course, said that the camp ignited her passion for cybersecurity.

“I just made a program that would crack a password for me,” Lu said. “It’s amazing because you could not possibly do that by hand.”

This growing enthusiasm for science is music to camp instructor’s ears. At P.S. 5 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, a new STEM camp called SEEK -- or the Summer Engineering Experience for Kids -- organized by the National Society of Black Engineers is specifically designed to teach participating middle schoolers that careers in science and math are possible for kids like them.

“A lot of these students don’t even know what engineering is,” said Maya Rucks, one of the instructors. “Most want to be professional football players or maybe an actor or comedian, but they don’t understand that engineering is fun.”

The excitement was palpable in one of the classrooms where kids learned about gravity by building a paper car propelled by gravity pulling down a roll of pennies. Tyler Coombs, 8, tested her vehicle on the floor. Other kids crowded around to watch and see how far her “gravity cruiser” would go.

“When I grow up, I might be an engineer,” Coombs said later. “I like this more because you get to build things. You get to design it.”