Seneca Highlands IU 9: Summer STEM Academy engages the brain

What can kids today do with a bunch of cardboard, plastic bottles, paper towel rolls, and “anything round that can be made into a wheel”?

Create cardboard carnival games, of course. Seneca Highlands IU 9’s annual STEM Academy spends lots of time on technology-forward activities, but it also cranks up the most powerful tech tool of all – the human imagination.

“We can buy all kinds of resources and kits, but this is them creating something, not just being a consumer,” said IU 9 Director of Curriculum, Technology, and Resources Cindy Murphy. “If we can’t form kids that can think about developing ideas and creating things as they grow up, then who’s going to be leading our world?”

The summer camp, in its fifth year in 2018, is one of several student events held year-round at the IU facility, because “we want to stay connected to the kids,” said Murphy. “Ultimately, our focus is student achievement.”

The week-long camp exposes students entering grades four through seven to the STEM universe. They explore the biology of local aquatic and plant life, tackle STEM design challenges, learn the language of coding, and program robots. They also learn STEM lessons from classic kid stuff, such as creating tissue-paper kites or, this year, dreaming up cardboard games for the closing-Friday carnival, open to parents, families, the community, and camp sponsors.

“We have kids that come back year after year,” said Murphy. “We don’t do the same thing every year because we want it to be a different experience.”

The 2017 event attracted about 50 students from 11 school districts throughout IU 9’s sprawling territory in northern Pennsylvania. The camp also connects IU 9 with schools seeking follow-up assistance in building and strengthening their STEM programs.

A summer experience introduces students to STEM’s basis in fun. 

“In the summertime, there’s no pressure of an assessment or a test,” said Murphy. “It’s just about collaborating with other kids and learning how to do something in an environment free of that testing.”

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