A New Type of Summer Camp
What do you do when it’s a pandemic and for over a decade 100 elementary students have been attending summer camp? Was cancelling the only option?
For ten years, The Cmolik Foundation has run a one week-long STEM focused summer camp for students from an inner-city school in Surrey on Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus. In the past, students have explored new and cutting-edge technology such as building mini airplanes with 3D printers, flying drones, and using virtual and augmented reality on day trips to British Columbia Institute of Technology’s campus. Referred to as The Expanding Horizons program, the students ultimately earn a Tuition Passport of $1,000 through their participation which they can to apply to their post-secondary education upon secondary school completion.
Faced with the option of cancelling due to COVID-19, The Cmolik Foundation instead, created a virtual, STEM “camp-in-a-box” experience. Traditionally, the Foundation has always tried to provide extraordinary learning experiences for students and, this year, virtual camp was no different. The first step was determining the guiding principles: camp should be safe (virtual rather than in person), fun (fostering a joy for learning), incorporate play, cultivate curiosity, focus on STEM learning, be entirely hands-on, provide activities that required little, if no, supervision (promoting their independence) and avoid requiring the use of technology.
Rather than simply leaving the students with boxes to navigate without any support at all, the Foundation continued to provide the teacher relationship, virtually, as a key point of connection. Teachers tested the resources and provided student-friendly “crib” instructions for the students. Teachers provided encouragement and support for the students in completion of their activities.
Working collaboratively with the teachers, the Foundation sourced some of the best available learning kits, resources and books so students could have a fabulous camp experience at home in their own backyard.
Students engaged in active learning without actually physically attending camp. The camp boxes contained STEM activities: decorating their camp t-shirts with simple electric circuits (“wearables”), using amazing, powerful Foldscopes (paper microscopes), building robotic hydraulic arms, experimenting with bacteria handwashing kits, creating projects with Snap Circuits and even using Electro Dough! Included in their boxes were beautiful books (eg. On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein) that reinforced their learning. In addition, each of the major post-secondary institutions (UBC, SFU, KPU) donated branded book bags, signature sunglasses, lunch kits and more for inclusion in the camp boxes. The idea was to make it feel a little like Christmas! Finally, at the end of each camp day, students sent photographic evidence to their teachers to demonstrate their learning and earn their Tuition Passports.
What did the students, parents and teachers have to say about camp? According to teacher Reilly Westwood, the grade seven students loved the hydraulic arm because it was so unique. Few students had any knowledge of hydraulics and this was a “cool introduction” for them.
As well, “The Foldscope is such a bizarre/incredible invention that I think some kids were astonished by its potential.” Of all the activities, perhaps the “Foldscope has the most potential in a classroom” as students could see the structure of organisms firsthand.
For grade 5 camp teacher, Kurt Heacock, he thought the Foldscope was also a fascinating activity. Students had a chance to use the paper microscope and see the world in a different way. That being said, given Covid-19, he also felt it was a perfect fit with the Handwashing Experiment. Students washed their hands with different soaps (and even a pet’s saliva!) and watched the bacteria grow over the course of the week; between the microscopes and the handwashing experiment, students could see the connections between how little things (a Corona virus) can affect us in a big way.
Armee Malig, the grade 6 teacher, said her students found the handwashing experiment most interesting as well as the Detectolab Kit. “The handwashing activity was so appropriate to what is happening in the world right now.” She also thought the t-shirt activity was lots of fun for the students; it allowed them to be super creative with their designs while learning about led circuits as well. They students loved lighting up their t-shirts and if we did it again, she recommended even more electric sewing pieces (eg. light-up stars from Technikio to sew on the shirts).
What were the best parts of camp overall? For teachers, it was definitely “Seeing the students help each other out via Teams and the smiles on the faces in their submission photos.” For the students, “These projects were a lot of fun and taught me how to do things I didn’t know before.” When designing her t-shirt, one student indicated “I loved the end result, I could make the T-shirt light turn green, red and blue, and if I combined all the lights, this would turn white.” How did parents feel about it? “All the parents loved it,” said the grade 7 teacher. The grade 5 teacher echoed the same sentiment. The parents were very surprised and grateful their children could have such a unique experience.
While it might not be the same as attending the camp in person, the students were given the gift of some amazingly rich learning resources to inspire their joy for learning, spark their curiosity and encourage them in their future aspirations. With engaging learning resources, great teachers, simplified activity instructions, meaningful tasks and the support of their peers, we leveraged the learning at home in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Co-authored with Camp Co-ordinator and SFU student, Ethan Carlson. Special thanks to the school and teachers (Kurt Heacock, Armee Malig and Reilly Westwood) for their collaboration on this project. Big thank you to our many suppliers for rushing our kits in the midst of a pandemic and even tailoring them for our needs!