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STEM @ the Beach Camp Gives Students Hands-on Experience

The robots wheeled around a white box, picking up red, green, and blue cubes. Others robots pushed the cubes around as middle school students were unable to remotely command the robots to do as they wished, while another robot had trouble keeping its pieces intact.

The learning curve at the STEM @ The Beach camp, led by assistant professor Cathrine Maiorca was steep. Yet, for the 17 middle school students in the week-long session held on campus, it was an overwhelming success. Not only did the seventh and eighth graders build a working robot, they made rockets out of plastic bottles, watched videos, listened to leading engineers, witnessed a live rocket launch at SpaceX and participated in various other activities.

The inaugural camp partnered with Long Beach Unified School District to give students a taste of engineering and perhaps plant the seeds of a career in the multi-faceted field. The camp was made possible by a generous donation from the Fluor Corporation, a global engineering and construction company.

Dr. Maiorca devised the idea of holding a STEM camp on campus after attending a conference last year, when she met professors from the University of Kentucky and Iowa State University who hold similar camps. She said they helped mentor and develop the camp, designed to engage low-income and under-represented middle school students in STEM activities and introduce them to STEM professions.

“This is important because it is in middle school where students begin life decisions such as staying in school,” Dr. Maiorca said. “Students also begin to choose what classes they want to take in high school, which will impact their college and career readiness.”

The camp also allowed preservice teachers in the College’s credential programs the opportunity to practice working with children in a problem based, integrated STEM environment.

“This is a valuable tool for mathematics teachers because it promotes productive struggle in the mathematics classroom as well as mathematical discussions, which is where our K-12 students gain the most learning,” Dr. Maiorca said.

Dr. Maiorca said the kids seemed to enjoy the camp and many asked to be invited again next summer.

“The robot was kind of easy for me,” said Greg Ahumada, an incoming eighth grader. “I like science and math.” His robot managed to easily pick up the cubes and drop them over the edge of the box.

Ahumada said going to the camp sparked his interest in engineering, and he could see himself studying it further in high school, maybe college.

Sandy Barrera’s robot struggled from the start. First, she and her partner lost a piece. Once they found it, they made a mistake and had to start over. Barrera said despite the trouble, she enjoyed the part when they got to eat the candy the robot managed to pick up with its “hands.”

Earlier in the week, the kids gathered marbles, grabbed Popsicle sticks and red plastic cups and began to build a top-down water flow inspired by rice terraces found in the Philippines. The irrigation system was an idea inspired by Fluor, which sent representatives to CSULB to lead the class.

“For Fluor, education is one of our highest priorities, the No. 1 priority as far as outreach and giving back to the community,” said DeeDee Rosenthal, community relations manager for Fluor. “We’ve had a previous relationship with the College of Education … so, when they approached us with this it was a natural fit for us.

“(The purpose is) being able to help underserved students in the Long Beach community and expose them to a camp like this and professionals in the industry – letting them meet engineers, talk to them face-to-face, and learn what Fluor does.”

Summary of Daily Camp Activities

Monday Morning

Campers began camp completing the Marshmallow Challenge where they were introduced to the engineering design process. Campers also watched a demonstration from the LA County Bomb Squad.

 Marshmallow Challenge & LA County Bomb Squad

Monday Afternoon

In the afternoon session students began building their own robots. 


Tuesday Morning

During the Fluor presentation campers were introduced to different kinds of engineering and worked along-side engineers as they completed the 2017 Fluor Engineering Design Challenge, “Follow the Flow”. 

 Fluor Presentation & Engineering Challenge

Tuesday Afternoon

During the afternoon sessions campers finished building the first stage of their robots and competed in their first robotics challenge. In this challenge campers play soccer with their robots. 


Wednesday Morning

(Field Trip to the Columbia Memorial Space Science Center)

During the first half of the field trip campers participated in a simulated Mission to Mars. In this activity, they performed STEM activities while they completed their roles as astronauts and members of mission control. 

 Simulated Mission to Mars

Wednesday Afternoon

In the afternoon campers went on a tour of the museum, where they programed Lego Robots and participate in aeronautical themed STEM activities. 

Museum Tour

Thursday Morning

Campers designed their own communications satellites and watched a robotics demonstration with Bob Barboza from the Barboza Space Center.

 Barboza Space Center

Thursday Afternoon

Campers finished building their robots by adding a claw. Campers also participated in their second challenge, where they used their claw to pick up candy.  


Friday Morning

Campers listened to a presentation from a SpaceX engineer then designed and launched their own water rockets. Campers also watched a live SpaceX rocket launch, narrated by the SpaceX engineer.


Friday Afternoon

During the last session campers participated in several robotics challenges. Campers also designed their own robotics challenges

 Final Robotics Challenges