STEM, STEAM, Coding & More: Exciting Summer Learning in Central Virginia!

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If you didn’t know it already, STEM and STEAM stand for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art (in the case of STEAM) and Math. STEM, STEAM, coding and robotics programs are part of a pedagogical initiative that encourages young people to think critically, learn by doing hands-on activities and experiments and work both independently and collaboratively to solve problems. Children engage in this kind of learning throughout the school year, but there are also ample opportunities to introduce your children to STEM and STEAM programs over the summer. Read on for a list of local programs and camps offered this summer that will prove both educational and entertaining for your children.

1. Amazement Square

Amazement Square will be offering a range of programs. “Saturdays at the Square” will involve a range of topics and activities from learning about ecosystems around the world to building structures with LEGOs. The “popUp makeshops” will provide a maker space where children can hone their technical and critical thinking skills while the intensive, 90-minute “STEAMpowered workshops” will focus on projects in robotics and printmaking. “Wondercamps” are five days of immersion in a specific theme.

“All of the programs offered at Amazement Square provide a unique type of informal education that allow for a variety of positive experiences for those who participate in them,” says Maia Bayuzick, Programs Coordinator at Amazement Square. “First and foremost is the type of knowledge that is presented. Programs at Amazement are wholeheartedly interdisciplinary. While the objective of a program may revolve around the science of aerodynamics, for example, the program will also contain information about the history of flight as well as the art and design of different airborne devices.” Visit amazementsquare.com for information.

2. Central Virginia Community College

CVCC will be offering several courses as part of their Summer Academies program this summer, all of which include STEM and STEAM concepts while also exposing young people to in-demand careers. The goal of the Summer Academies program, which began in 1999, is to encourage elementary, middle and high school students to explore STEM-related careers early in their academic pursuits.

“My hope is that, especially with the students who receive scholarships to attend the summer programs, some of them will find a subject that lights their fire and helps them move toward higher education at some level,” says Dr. Ruth Hendrick, PhD, Vice President of Workforce Solutions at CVCC. “Having the programs on campus gives students a preview of college life. In all cases, we hope that the participants will expand their experiences with the academies and help them consider STEM fields they might otherwise not have considered for careers.” Electronic registration opens April 1. Visit cvcc.vccs.edu for information.

3. Lynchburg Public Library

The Lynchburg Public Library offers free storytimes and programs throughout the year. This summer, they will be offering weekly programs for children ages 0-12, and among these programs is a STEAM program for children ages six to eight. In this 30-minute program, children work both independently and collaboratively with hands-on activities that focus on STEAM concepts. Past program topics have included static electricity, magnets and the human skeletal system.

“STEAM programs provide a unique opportunity to inspire and motivate children to explore the world around them and to spark curiosity about how things work,” says Beverly Blair, librarian and supervisor of the Youth Services Department at Lynchburg Public Library. “I think many children, from youth to teens, can benefit from the opportunity to explore, tinker, create and experiment with materials in an open-ended and supportive environment. I hope we can continue to offer STEAM to more and more age groups in the future.” Visit lynchburgpublic-library.org for information.

4. Randolph College

Randolph College will be offering two different camps this summer: Tech Cats Kids Coding Camp (TC3 Kids) for rising third to rising seventh graders, and Tech Cats Coding Camp (TC3) for rising eighth to rising 12th graders. In TC3 Kids, children work with circuit builders, complete robotics projects with LEGOs and write code using a program called Scratch. Because the camp runs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, snacks, lunch and time for outdoor play are provided. An ice cream social is held at the end of the week so children can showcase their coding work.

In TC3, teens learn about computer programming and work with such languages as Python, MATLAB and LabVIEW to complete small projects and one larger project for the week. “Learning coding is such a great way of using math skills, logic, reasoning, problem solving and many other things,” says Dr. Katrin Schenk, PhD, Associate Professor of Physics at Randolph College and instructor of TC3 and TC3 Kids Camps. “When these kids get out of college and get jobs—even if they aren’t in the tech industry–the level of knowledge that’s expected in these areas is getting higher and higher.” Visit randolphscience.org/coding-camps  for information.

5. Sweet Briar College

Sweet Briar College offers three Explore Engineering events throughout the year: one in the fall, one in the spring and one in the summer. The Summer Explore Engineering Design course is an intensive one-credit college course that introduces high school women to real-world engineering and to the experience of studying engineering at Sweet Briar. The Explore Engineering programs, which are supported by AREVA, serve as a primary recruitment tool for the Wyllie Engineering Program at Sweet Briar, which is one of only two women’s colleges in the country to offer an accredited engineering degree.

“It has been incredibly rewarding to see participants progress from being high school students to seeing them graduate and move into the engineering profession,” says Hank Yochum, director of the Margaret Jones Wyllie ’45 Engineering Program. “I do believe there are women who are now engineers because they found our close-knit and supportive engineering community through the Explore Engineering program.” Due to the program’s popularity and a limited number of spaces, those interested in participating must submit an application essay when registering. Visit sbc.edu for information.

6. Sylvan Learning Center

Sylvan Learning Center offers STEM programs throughout the school year, as well as summer camps. Offerings include two levels of coding, three levels of robotics, one level of Math EDGE and one level of Engineering/Structure building; levels are determined by a mixture of age and experience with the subject matter. In the coding camp, children learn about computer programming, animate their own stories and create video games. Robotics camp involves working with different levels of LEGO—from WeDo to Mindstorms—to build robots; children work both individually and in pairs to ensure that each child builds at least one robot. In Math EDGE, children learn what’s behind math and engage in fun activities that make the subject more approachable. Children will build bridges of increasing difficulty among other things in the Engineering/Structure building camp. Each program boasts a ratio of one teacher per six students.

“We saw that providing these opportunities for students when they are in first grade, second grade—all the way up through sixth—allows them to engage to the point where they’re going to do better in science and math classes when they get to middle school and high school,” says Bob Morgan, Center Director of Sylvan Learning Centers in Central Virginia. “The whole idea is to build the providences and capabilities in these areas, and to do so early.”
Visit locations.sylvanlearning.com/us/lynchburg-va for information.


By Emily Hedrick

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