Abstract scientific concepts don’t stick with kids until they apply them in the real world. Researchers find that student engagement is even stronger when that investigation takes place in the students’ own communities.
To provide this powerful learning experience, University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene offered a hands-in-the-water, feet-in-the-mud, place-based science exploration, at Environment of Our Community Camp (EEOC) during the 2012 summer.
EEOC science, technology, engineering and math (STEM ) activities allowed students to explore their community as they investigated and applied scientific concepts. They used GPS technology to do geocaching on Tubbs Hill, took water samples Coeur d’Alene Beach, analyzed the samples in University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene lab, and toured the city’s Wastewater Treatment facility, among other activities.
The camp was made possible by an $11,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation.
“The summer science camp is a down-to-earth, practical way to highlight the value of STEM education, and companies like Verizon need employees with technical, problem-solving skills to innovate and conquer future challenges,” said Scott Charlston, Verizon Wireless’s public relations manager for the Pacific Northwest.
Six local high school student mentors, selected through an interview process with U-Idaho educators, lead the campers. To hone their leadership skills in advance of the camp, the high school students tackled a ropes course, received first aid and safety training, learned plant identification and flora/fauna cataloging on Tubbs Hill, and performed bacteria analysis and water quality/watershed assessment on local waters.
While engaged in STEM activities, participating students from the Coeur d'Alene School District, Coeur d'Alene Tribal School and Spokane Tribal School also learned how to record and share their discoveries through an interactive website.
“Our abundant natural resources and the central role of lakes and rivers in our community provide a perfect laboratory for STEM training,” said Charles Buck, U-Idaho associate vice president for Northern Idaho. “Our programs build enthusiasm with kids for environment stewardship and, hopefully, for pursuing a STEM education.”