NASA summer camps are ready for lift-off across Pennsylvania
Downingtown, PA – For those students who dream of becoming an astronaut – or pursuing any science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related profession – there’s no better way to spend the last week in July than building lunar rovers, launching balloon rockets and baking s’mores in solar ovens during NASA’s Summer of Innovation (SOI) camps.
Approximately 2,000 fourth through tenth graders across Pennsylvania are set to blast off into an out-of-this-world learning experience from July 23-27. The Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) was one of eight organizations, and the only in northeastern United States, selected by NASA in 2011 to implement the SOI grant and facilitate the free, weeklong camps to be held simultaneously at 25 sites statewide.
“Clearly, the major focus of programs such as these is to spark interest in math and science in young people, boys and girls alike,” said Dr. Stan Terzopolos, coordinator for the eastern region of Pennsylvania. “NASA is committed to engaging students in activities that will hopefully cause them to seek careers in science and engineering, and perhaps one day work for NASA.”
Summer of Innovation, now in its third year nationally and its second year in Pennsylvania, provides hands-on learning opportunities for students and educators. It works in conjunction with CCIU’s current Math and Science Partnership Grant (PA3-MSP), which allocated $5.1 million for a three-year project to improve teacher content knowledge in math and science across Pennsylvania and, accordingly, improve student performance.
“This is a very prestigious grant award, given that we are the only SOI project in the northeast, but it is also a massive undertaking,” said Dr. David Morgan, project director of Summer of Innovation. “I think it speaks well of the imagination and resources of those involved.”
Not only are the grant facilitators responsible for designing the curriculum, training the teachers and evaluating the project, he added that staff members have also been charged with purchasing the materials and distributing them to the 25 campsites across Pennsylvania.
According to Dr. Terzopolos, Summer of Innovation offers a valuable learning experience for both teachers and students.
“Our teachers learn new things they can weave into their curricula where appropriate, and students receive the opportunity to participate in meaningful, creative activities to productively fill the summer void,” said Dr. Terzopolos. “Everyone gains from programs like this.”
Indeed, productive summer activities are one way to combat what educators call the “summer slide,” in which students lose what they learned in the previous school year. Not only will students gain additional content knowledge in the sciences, the camp’s engaging activities might also inspire a future career in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.
“Some parents were amazed to find their child who hated getting up for school, was dressed and ready to go to NASA camp and many students did not want to go home at the end of the day,” said Maria Alexis, a fourth grade teacher at Pope John Paul II Regional Catholic Elementary School who participated in the program last year. “I am convinced that the NASA SOI program left all of the students who attended our camps with the desire to ‘know more.’”
The major themes for this year are earth and space science, engineering, planetology and rocketry. Educators received training on the experiments selected from the NASA curriculum during their three-day professional development experience at Goddard Space Flight Center. Among the exciting activities are constructing a model of the Wright brothers’ original glider, building a scale model of the solar system and exploring the notion of life on Mars.
“This program is so important because students who may have had little interest in science before, quickly develop a desire to learn more about our earth, solar system, our galaxy and the galaxies beyond, along with the sciences behind them,” said Alexis. “NASA SOI is a program that will leave students with not only fond memories, but with science and problem-solving skills they will have for the rest of their lives.”
Camps will be conducted from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. daily at the following sites in the eastern region (registration for this year is closed):
Coatesville School District: Gordon Education Center and Pope John Paul II Regional Catholic Elementary School
Octorara School District: Octorara Intermediate School
Chester Upland School District: Chester High School
Philadelphia School District: Edwin Forrest Elementary School, Richard R. Wright Elementary School and Deburgos Elementary School
Immaculata University, Bucknell University, Lycoming College, University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and the Chester County Intermediate Unit are partners in NASA’s Summer of Innovation Project.
For more information about the Summer of Innovation program, visit NASA’s website by clicking here.
Photo Caption:Who needs electricity when you have the sun! Fourth graders Grace Casagrande, Abbey McFarland and Madisyn Miller waited patiently while their handmade solar ovens went to work melting s’mores for the afternoon snack at one of last year’s Summer of Innovation camps.