ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Aug. 24, 2020) - Although COVID-19 has derailed plans for many in-person group activities this summer, that didn’t stop the U.S. Army from providing engaging science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities to 137 local elementary and middle grade students during a virtual summer camp.
The Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center – a component of Army Futures Command’s Combat Capabilities Development Command – hosted its 26th annual Math and Science Summer Camp from July 27 to Aug. 7. This was the first time the Center’s Community Outreach Team offered the program virtually.
“Switching to a virtual format presented many challenges in terms of student engagement,” said Jackie Burr, the team’s STEM outreach training and development designer who created the online camp curriculum. “There are many nuances of a summer camp that are hard to recreate over a screen. We had to identify what would translate well from a classroom to a virtual environment. We ended up with a hybrid of live instruction and team building, and prerecorded lessons and activities.”
The Center’s Community Outreach Team created two groups, with 61 students attending the 5th and 6th grade camp and 76 students attending the 7th and 8th grade camp. The younger grades explored concepts surrounding flight and rocketry. Participants began with the science of air, creating paper rockets and predicting their launch height and trajectory; they then moved into the physics of designing and creating parachutes.
The older grades explored the theme of “STEM in Popular Culture.” In addition to creating superheroes based on the Periodic Table of Elements, students explored the science of invisible ink, the math behind rock-paper-scissors and the engineering design process used to create board games. Students also explored nanotechnology and designed escape room challenges.
“A goal of mine is to always have the students looking to improve what exists in our world. I do not want them replicating existing technology, but rather, looking to refine and advance what we already know to work,” said Burr.
Curriculum designers worked hard to ensure that students would be able to safely participate in science experiments using common items found in their household. While the socialization of recess and other traditional camp experiences couldn’t be replicated in an online format, the Center’s Community Outreach Team incorporated activities like daily trivia, Smashbook prompts to encourage community, and daily STEM challenges to create a friendly “recess” competition.
The Math and Science Summer Camp program began in 1994 at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, and it was transitioned to Maryland in 2011 following a base realignment and closure. The camp was established as a way to encourage student interest in STEM subjects as well as to help students think about future careers in those subjects.
“We have families where all the children have passed through our program, students who were with us in New Jersey and stayed with us in Maryland,” said Erica Fineman-Bertoli, the Center’s lead for community outreach. “For so many, our summer camp is a part of the fabric of their year. With all of the uncertainty around COVID, it was critical that we connect with these kids and provide them a little piece of normalcy in a very abnormal summer.
“I know from watching my own kids navigate this reality that having some structured educational activities is more important than ever. Our goal is to keep kids excited about STEM and to make sure that they know we are still here working to help them achieve all of their STEM dreams,” Fineman-Bertoli added.
To that point, the Center’s Community Outreach Team has also developed a STEM@Home newsletter, which outlines science lessons and activities for elementary, middle and high school students. The activities are designed to be engaging and educational while requiring minimal materials, said Fineman-Bertoli, who noted that her team posts current and past issues of the newsletter to the Student Programs page of the Center’s pubic website.
For more information regarding C5ISR Center STEM Outreach programs, visit the Student Programs page or contact the C5ISR Center Public Affairs Office.
The C5ISR Center is the Army’s applied research and advanced technology development center for C5ISR capabilities. As the Army’s primary integrator of C5ISR technologies and systems, the center develops and matures capabilities that support all six Army modernization priorities, enabling information dominance and tactical overmatch for the joint warfighter.
The C5ISR Center is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our nation’s wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.