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Robots & Rockets: Second Annual STEM @ the Beach Camp Brings Dozens of Area Students to Campus

Published July 16, 2018

With team names like “Team Skittles” and “Robotic Wings”, one can’t help but get swept up in the excitement and enthusiasm felt by the kids at STEM @ the Beach, a week-long camp dedicated to hands-on STEM learning. Spearheaded by College of Education (CED) assistant professor Dr. Cathrine Maiorca, this year’s camp, brought 31 energetic 5th-8th graders from area school districts to CSULB to work with CED pre-service teachers and experts from further afield to build robots, catapults, shelters, and rockets, all in the name of science and math education and integration.

The camp, a natural progression for Dr. Maiorca, whose own doctoral dissertation included an afternoon STEM program, focuses on STEM education for this specific age group, which is when most are beginning to explore career options. For Maiorca, this camp is crucial because, “…If you can connect math and science together it makes learning much more powerful. And it encourages higher order thinking skills. For students when they grow up, even if they don’t pursue a STEM job, they must be able to think critically and have problem-solving skills, to be innovative thinkers…and that’s STEM education.”

Modeled off University of Kentucky’s See Blue See STEM Summer Experiences’ camp, the CSULB model also focuses on creating fun and meaningful experiences for campers utilizing STEM methodology, but unlike others, CSULB’s STEM camp is completely free to students, offering those who may not easily have access to this subject area an accessible and immersive path to engage. When asked why he wanted to return for a second year of camp, a Franklin Middle Schooler replied, “Because I know that Dr. Maiorca usually changes things up…we didn’t always…build a robot. They have different people come to speak to us and I understand that maybe next year there would be…probably a mathematician…This year we had Fluor [Corp.] again and they spoke about chemical engineering and what they do…and I also came because it’s fun and I wanted to build a robot.”

Robot-building was an active theme that carried throughout the week allowing campers several opportunities to use their creativity and problem-solving skills to program computer code and adjust their designs on the spot to prepare for friendly competitions with other campers.

Campers compete with their robots
Feeling the pressure of competition, campers work in teams to move the colored blocks with their robots.

Special guests in the STEM community from both on and off campus created lessons for the students, including several engineers from Fluor Corp., one of the camp’s primary sponsors, who led a morning class on catapult-building. Khoi Vo, Design Engineer at Fluor Corp and also a CSULB alum explains why it was important for him to be part of the camp, “For me, I spent a lot time here when I was in the College of Engineering so I don’t forget where I came from. I donate monetarily to the Beach Fund. But this time I had the chance to work with the kids and to revisit the campus. So it’s a sentimental feeling and also [I enjoy] helping out the kids.”

Two campers build their catapult from various materials.
Students concentrate on crafting their catapult. 

Researchers at the Human Performance and Robotics Lab on campus gave the students a behind-the-scenes look at their lab where they were allowed to work with VR and motion capture technology, and high-tech robots.

Each day the sessions were facilitated by College of Education pre-service teachers enrolled in Dr. Maiorca’s EDEL 462: Teaching and Learning Mathematics, K-8, giving them the opportunity to do their own fieldwork and also providing an opportunity to learn about STEM education integration and how it could be implemented in their own future classrooms. Pre-service teacher, Hannah Morrow said of the camp, “The robots were a great way for the students to work together and learn about engineering. Bringing robots into my classroom would be a wonderful way to have students get a different perspective of STEM rather than from a textbook and maybe become enthusiastic about a hobby or career involving STEM."

As would be expected in a STEM camp, the week culminated in a full day of rocket-building where students tested their new skills using 2-liter soda bottles fueled by water and lots of excitement over whose could launch the highest.

Students add water to fuel their rockets
Students add rocket fuel (water).

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