THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT Informal learning environments that promote STEM, such as summer camps, have been shown to have positive effects on 1) students’ content knowledge, understanding, attitudes, and confidence in STEM; and 2) students’ selection of STEM majors . In order to expand the number of well-prepared students choosing to attend a university and select STEM-related majors, and ultimately STEM careers, a Texas T-STEM center conducted a two-week summer camp for high school students and provided professional development to their STEM teachers. http://www.karthividhyalaya.com/ The summer STEM camp was designed, organized, and conducted by this center at a Research 1 university in 2011. Students who participated in the Texas T-STEM center’s camp entered the 11th grade after the camp and had attended and an inner city charter school in a major metropolitan area in the southwestern United States. The school administrators selected which students attended the camp. Of the 31 attending students, 15 were female, 23 were African American, and eight were Hispanic. Half of these students were reported as at-risk and 75% were eligible for free or reduced lunch. The summer STEM camp was designed to provide students with an authentic university experience while immersing them in STEM learning. Students resided in university student housing while attending the camp and dined in the campus facilities. They were introduced to a variety of professors and visited different departments and laboratories on campus. Both graduate and undergraduate students majoring in STEM fields served as residence assistants, offering campers opportunities to learn about the life of a college student. Students had an opportunity to formally question university students about college life in an interactive panel discussion. Through conversations with admissions and financial advisors, students learned to strategize about how to enroll at the university. They also visited the university television station where they created and recorded their own television spot highlighting their camp experiences click here.
During the summer STEM camp, there was an emphasis on PBL and the engineering design process. Students were able to engage in two different authentic hands-on PBL units, each with 24 contact hours of in-class time and over 10 hours of independent study time in which the students conducted additional research and journal ed. The first PBL unit was Non-Newtonian Fluid Dynamics. Students had the ill-defined task of creating silly putty, a viscous non-Newtonian fluid, which enabled them to explore and integrate physics, chemistry, and quadratic functions. They used quadratic parent functions to explain non-linear flow of silly putty made with varying concentrations of water. The well-defined outcome was an advertisement convincing others to buy their silly putty product. The second PBL centered on robotics. During this PBL unit the students had the ill-defined task of programming robots which were fitted with an array of sensors (e.g. pH, temperature, light intensity, etc.) and conducting a series of experiments on unknown substances. Students also generated hypothetical simulations of the surface of Mars that their robots were expected to navigate. The well-defined outcome was to program their robots to locate and gather the unknown substances scattered throughout the simulated Mars surface, take these samples to a laboratory, and determine their compositions. The PBLs occurred in the morning; and in the afternoon, the students received SAT preparation training for both mathematics and English. They also had opportunities to learn coding, statistics, and a foreign language. In addition to the academic experiences, students were also able to participate in other types of activities that college students typically enjoy. They visited the local water park, exercised at the university gym, went to the local theater, ice skated, bowled, and engaged in other typical recreational activities. Free time was allotted for relaxation and informal discussions with their and the resident assistants.