A group of middle school students participated in a free coding and electronics camp sponsored by the State of New Mexico June 28 through July 2 at the Youth Services Building at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
During the week students at Camp Innovation learned how to build and control electronic circuits using Arduino, as well as write computer code to control sensors, LEDs, and servo motors. They also created a prototype solution to a problem they want to solve and marketed their prototype during a presentation July 2.
Alejandro Fernandez, a 6th grade student who participated in the camp, said is parents told him about the camp and he was interested because it was about coding.
“I wanted to learn more about coding so I decided to enroll in the camp.”
Fernandez said he has been learning a lot. “I’ve learned how to control and program the circuit board a lot more than I knew in the beginning. My favorite part has been learning how to do it on my own and being more hands on.”
Jacob Hannah, an 8th grade student, said that although his parents made him come to the camp, he does think it is interesting and I is having fun. “The best part has been coding on the computers.”
Samuel Dickerson, an 8th grade student, said his dad told him about the camp and he decided to enroll. He said he has learned how to actually code instead of having to use code logs. I also learned how to wire. His favorite part was trying to build a prototype with his friend Nathan Smith, also an 8th grade student.
Their project is an anti-theft system with a blinking light that alerts you to someone entering the house instead of an alarm that you may not be able to hear.
Camp Innovation was brought to White Sands youth by Golden Apple Teacher and Robotics coach Cheryl Kerby and Greg Myers, Executive Director of the New Mexico Military Base Planning Commission.
Myers said the camp has been about a year in the making.
“I started by talking to all the military commanders (in New Mexico) and understanding their desire to have STEM education in their schools on the installations and in the public communities.”
Then he got in touch with the Air Force Research Lab and talked about their involvement in helping out with STEM education. Through them he met Cheryl Kerby, a retired teacher and former engineer.
“Her passion is to teach STEM classes to kids. She volunteered her time to come to the installations and teach a class. She just needed the resources to do it so I helped out with that,” Myers said.
The State of New Mexico provided the funding for the equipment – lap top computers, electronic kits and micro processing boards.
Myers said it is important to have these programs in order to improve the quality of life for military families.
“We want to provide great opportunities for military children so that as they move around with their parents they don’t feel like they are missing out on opportunities. We want to make these opportunities available to them wherever they are.”
Myers said STEM education is critical for New Mexico with all the research and development industries located in New Mexico because it has been difficult to find enough qualified people to fill positions.
“We’d love to be able to fill those positions from within New Mexico,” he said. Myers said hopefully military kids who have come through programs like this one will want to go work for the research lab, WSMR, and space port.
“There are so many opportunities here, so having them understand what is out there is key.”
Kerby, a retired STEM teacher, who worked with Rio Rancho Public Schools for a number of years and taught engineering design and robotics said she felt the need to get kids interested in STEM, so she came up with the idea to do it as a summer camp.
“I talked with Greg about it and he agreed to fund it through his office with the State of New Mexico.”
Kerby said they’ve held the camp at three bases in New Mexico this summer, at Cannon Air Force Base, Holloman Air Force Base and now WSMR.
“What we’d really like to do now is take this information into schools as a one day in house field trip or a Saturday workshop.”
Kerby said she and Myers felt they needed to do something to get New Mexico students more interested in STEM. “The reason for that is because STEM fields pay well and our labs are having trouble finding local talent to fill those positions.”
“We thought starting with the military bases might be a good opportunity to bring programs for the kids to be exposed to STEM in a unique way.”
At the beginning of the week students did an interest survey and they compared their interests to different careers. They also had to do an inventory to see what kind of lifestyle they want to have.
Kerby said they did that through a website with New Mexico workforce solutions. “The kids chose what kind of house they want to live in, what kind of car they want to drive and so on and what level of education they want. As they went through the survey they started to see how their income was going to be impacted by those choices. I think it was eye opening for them.”
From there they looked into careers. “Once we did a little experimentation and research into that we started learning about the technology that is involved in electrical circuits and coding.”
Kerby said they are trying to get the kids to realize the importance of STEM. Kerby said she did a pre survey and many of the kids said they came because their parents made them.
“By the end of each camp the majority of the kids said they enjoyed what they did and that they learned a lot and came up with great projects.”
“It also seems to have affected their willingness to take higher level math and science courses in high school,” she said.