Students test the strength of popsicle bridges built in the 2016 summer STEM camps. Courtesy Central Kitsap School District

Registration open for CKSD STEM summer camps

CENTRAL KITSAP — Current third through fifth graders with an interest in science, technology, engineering and math have some great summer camp opportunities to delve deeper into their scholastic passions this summer in the Central Kitsap School District.

Week-long STEM camps will be offered in June, July and August; registration is open through March at www.ckschools.org.

Doug Dowell, STEM coordinator for the district, said these camps are possible thanks to Department of Defense Education Activities grants, and are a way to “increase the interest and self-confidence of kids in STEM.”

Dowell said that elementary teachers are tasked with teaching a wide variety of subjects, and as such “it’s hard for them to get into any depth with the STEM subjects.”

“This is a chance for the kids who might have gotten sparked,” Dowell said. “This is a chance for them to dig in deeper and pursue that activity that they really love.”

There are three different types of camps: a STEM team challenge camp, which is a co-ed camp for current fifth graders.

“In this camp, kids will utilize science, technology, engineering and math skills — and a lot of imagination — to try and work together collaboratively to try and solve challenges that the staff presents,” Dowell said.

Past challenges have included civil engineering challenges like building bridges or structures that can hold a certain amount of weight or robotics challenges including building and programming a robot to complete certain tasks. However, Dowell said the challenges change every year because “keep it fresh.”

The other two types of camps are engineering and computer science camps, for current third and fourth graders. These two camps are not coed, because, as Dowell said, there is “a lot of research out there that shows, especially with our young girls, that they do much better when they’re not in a competitive environment … so that they can explore and do things without any of the gender issues coming up.”

These camps, Dowell said, he approaches with three main goals in mind.

“The first thing is that I want these camps to be fun and engaging for the kids,” he said. “The idea is that it’s a camp and we’re trying to build enthusiasm. If we’re not engaging and fun, then we’re not offering a product worth selling.

“The second big goal that I have for these camps is that the campers experience a variety of what I call hands-on and minds-on challenges,” he said. “They’re not just fiddling with stuff, but they’re really thinking. They’re not just sitting back and being passive recipients of whatever the information might be.”

The third goal, he said, is to increase STEM participation and opportunities for underrepresented groups like female or low-income students.

“This is a big thing for me … (to) increase those campers’ interests and their self-confidence in pursuing STEM courses in school and STEM careers down the road,” Dowell said.

One neat aspect of the summer STEM camps, which grew organically in the three years since they started, is how many of the assistant positions helping staff run the camps are graduating high school or college students who focus in STEM areas.

“This year, I sent an email to all of our CTE (career and technical education) teachers across the district to say, ‘If you’v got any kids … this could be a good summer job,’ ” Dowell said.

He added that last year, “We had some young ladies that put that on their college applications.”

“What’s really powerful is when we get our own kids coming back,” Dowell said. “They’re giving back. It’s very much a pay-it-forward type of thing.”

To learn more about the summer STEM camps, visit the CKSD Summer Programs page.

Michelle Beahm is a reporter with the Kitsap News Group. She can be reached at mbeahm@soundpublishing.com.

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