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Pfeiffer, SCC hosts STEM camps for kids

By Marina Shankle, for the SNAP

From dissecting sheep brains to solving math problems with LEGOs, local students experienced science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in a variety of ways at this year’s STEM camps.

Pfeiffer University hosted elementary and middle school camps from June 10-21, as well as an all-girls STEM camp with scholarship opportunities for girls interested in STEM activities.
This year, Stanly Community College also provided space for learning.

This is the fifth year Pfeiffer has offered STEM camps to local kids.

“I began hosting STEM camps in the summer of 2013,” said Laura Lowder, associate professor of education at Pfeiffer. “The first year we partnered with Camp Invention. Since then, it has been a passionate goal of mine to develop programs that were more engaging and affordable for all ages. Each fall I brainstorm camp topics for the upcoming summer based on the interests and needs of our STEM kids who keep coming back to campus year after year.”

This is the first year STEM camps have had access to SCC’s campus.

“In past years, we have collaborated with Michael Lowder, department head of Life and Physical Sciences [at SCC], as well as the NC BioNetwork, to help facilitate programs on our Misenheimer campus,” Lowder said. “We are thrilled with the opportunities that our new formal collaboration between these two institutions has and will continue to bring to our community.”

The STEM camps focused on topics such as neuroscience, math, physics and critical thinking. Students attending these camps learned about these topics through hands-on activities.
Students learned how the brain functioned, then took a closer look at the parts of a brain by dissecting a sheep’s brain.

Other students learned about the parts and functions of the heart before dissecting a sheep’s heart.

“We measured our heartbeats by counting how many times our hearts beat in a minute,” said Joey Coley, 10, of Locust. “Then we tested accelerated rates by running around the halls, then measuring how long it took us to get back to our resting rates.”

Kids who participated in the math camps learned about two-dimensional shapes and structures by building those shapes with LEGOs. The youngest children used LEGOs to practice sorting objects by criteria such as shape, color and size.

Older students at the all-girls camp also learned about brain parts and functions and dissected a sheep’s brain. These students used SCC’s digital cadaver table, as well, to study parts of the human body.

More than 200 students participated in this year’s camps, Lowder said.

“We had many returning campers,” she said. “In fact, one long-time STEM camper, Hayley Moore from North Stanly High School, recently took a college tour and interviewed for a service scholarship at Pfeiffer.

“We are beginning to see some of our campers from the very first year of our programs transitioning from elementary camps to middle and high school camps,” she added. “It is rewarding to have the opportunity to work with these children from our community year after year. I not only get to watch them grow up, I also get to see how powerful cumulative STEM experiences can be for engaged young learners.

“One eighth grader, Morgan Madaris, has performed dissections on an earthworm, frog, owl pellet, sheep brain, sheep heart and fetal pig all during our STEM programs, and she hasn’t even entered high school yet.”

Lowder hopes the STEM camps will have a positive impact on the community for many years to come, and she is excited about scholarship opportunities that would open doors for even more students to get involved with STEM.

“We are always working on grants to allow us to invite children to campus at little to no cost to families,” Lowder said. “We are very fortunate to have been awarded $10,000 from the Stanly County Community Foundation that funded this year’s All-Girls STEM Camp.

“I already have plans for a variety of camps to be offered next June and plan to launch registration before January with discounts available for early registrations.

“I’m also planning another all-girls opportunity for a highly-selective, small group of young ladies to continue studying STEM topics with female scientists throughout the upcoming school year in an after school program format.”

For more information about upcoming STEM camps, contact Laura Lowder at Laura.Lowder@pfeiffer.edu.

Marina Shankle is a freelance contributor for The Stanly News & Press.