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STEM Camp brings science to kids during summer vacation

Very few times in my life have I every truly wanted to go back and be a kid again.

Charles Curcio, sports editorFor the most part, I’ve always felt more like Geoffery, the Toys-R-Us mascot; I never have grown up. Still, seeing him walking out of a closed store, suitcase in hand, reminds one of the constant of time.

However, seeing the joy on the faces of kids recently at the Pfeiffer STEM camp makes me wish I could have been a kid again to study science over the summer.

English and the sciences were always my favorites in high school, and I nearly went into the sciences before I discovered the world of sports journalism in college.

So when I had the opportunity to go back to my college to visit the STEM camps, I jumped at the chance.

I had never been in the newer parts of Harris Science Building, so after making my way up the stairs, I turned right and walked into a chemistry lab.

To see the kids learning about how different elements are different colors when set on fire, I saw their genuine interest in chemistry.

Laura Lowder, an associate professor of education at Pfeiffer, put it perfectly when speaking of getting students interested in the sciences.

“The potential of children is vast and great and it is our responsibility to provide experiences to help them to discover and foster their interests,” Lowder said.

She added science, technology, engineering and math (or STEM) is one area “that is too often out of reach.”

Students then used Bunsen burners to see different elements burn other colors by using spray bottles. First I made made sure my eyebrows were out of distance. Then, I saw their enthusiasm on making the flame burn different colors using various combinations of elements.

These kids had Pfeiffer professor James Emory showing them the ways of dry ice and making bottles explode out behind the dorms. As the sonic boom spread across campus, the kids faces’ lit up.

But the middle school chemistry camp was only part of my trip back to Pfeiffer. I saw an experiment from elementary-age kids in a physics class in the library.

The instant I walked in, the library still smelled exactly the same as it had when I graduated many, many years ago.

Parachutes were the product of this classroom’s efforts, seeing whose could stay aloft the highest after being let go from a staircase behind Harris.

The winner’s parachute stayed aloft nearly four seconds, but it was less about competition and more about learning why things work the way they do.

It was hard to figure out who was having more fun, the student teachers or the students themselves.

Lowder talked about the benefits of the STEM camps, having completed its sixth year this summer, for both students and student-instructors.

“Students engage in 21st Century Skills like collaboration and critical thinking while having fun learning STEM topics.  Instructors have a safe and exciting space to grow as teachers of STEM topics; preparing them with tangible skills for future work in their own public school classrooms.”

Lowder talked about her hopes for the camps and the impact they can make on students in the future.

“The hope is that campers end these experiences being able to visualize themselves contributing in some aspect of the field in the future,” Lowder said.

Overall, the tone of the camps was fun and campers were all smiles, going in 18 different directions simultaneously. The only word I could use is magical, which is just how Lowder put it later about her feelings on the camps.

“As camp director, it is magical to see young educators who were so recently learning from my colleagues and myself in Pfeiffer’s classrooms, putting their learning into action as they facilitate learning for our campers,” Lowder said. “The process is remarkable and gives them confidence that they take with them along their journeys.”

The part of the camp I missed I wish I could have seen was the LEGO math class. As someone with a young energetic nephew in his life who loves those things, I need all the help I can get.

Pfeiffer’s outreach to the kids will not end with the summer’s events, however, Lowder said. The university plans to launch an after-school STEM Club program in the fall as well as host a STEM Day on Oct. 28.

Anything our society does to encourage young women and men to be part of the sciences will benefit the world in the long run.

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio was the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press from 1999-2001 and has currently served in the same capacity since 2008. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also been honored twice by the North Carolina Press Association.

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