By Alexis Sarabia
Can science camps have a lasting impact on students?
“Definitely,” says Steve Goldsmith, co-founder of Bay Area Summer Enrichment (BASE) camp, based in Mountain View.
Goldsmith attended a computer programming camp similar to the one he recently taught this summer when he was in 7th grade. It sparked a deeper interest in programming and led to several game apps now featured in the iTunes store and a degree in electrical engineering.
Goldsmith says the two-week computer science camp held by his organization could inspire students today in the same way.
A study last year by a combined group at Alcorn State University in Mississippi and University of St. Thomas in Minnesota supports the idea.
Participants were given a 21-item science and career questionnaire at the beginning and the end of a week-long science camp they attended. By the end of camp, the proportion of participants who agreed with the statement, "I will be taking as many science classes as I can,” rose from 35 percent to 55 percent, while those who agreed with the statement, "I want to major in science in college,” nearly doubled to 52 percent.
Of students who participated in a two-week science camp as part of a separate study a decade ago, three-quarters reported an increased interest in science.
Science camps spark students' interest in science in many ways, including increasing confidence, according to Ed Caballero, cofounder of Edventuremore, which holds local classes in Los Altos, Cupertino and Palo Alto.
Edventuremore holds three different camps: Camp Edmo for grades K-4, Camp EdTech for grades 5-9 and Edmo in the Park for grades K-5.
Camp Edmo has an arts and science program centered on a weekly theme, but students in this camp also learn how to use stop-motion animation technology.
Camp EdTech, for the older students, places a larger emphasis on digital media and technology. Students learn to create two-dimensional and three-dimensional video games, make digital movies and take digital photographs.
Every year Edventuremore holds an annual media fest where students showcase their projects. The goal of the media fest is to create a bigger platform for their work and suggest to students, ‘Wow, I’m really good at this,’ says Caballero.
These camps also try to cultivate interest in the science, technology or engineering behind the creative skills they teach.
"Especially in high school, there is so much of a focus on the techniques. So much of a focus on ‘How do you take a determinant of a matrix?’, not what a determinant of a matrix is," says Goldsmith.
BASE camp offers a two-week introductory programming camp that teaches students how to make computer games using the programming language Python. The goal is to have students become familiar with basic programming principles so that they can apply what they have learned to other programming languages.
Goldsmith says that giving students context about the science, mathematical and engineering principles involved makes these fundamentals seem more relevant, and helps increase students' interest.
The program's co-founder still recalls learning about the quadratic equation in the eighth grade. Goldsmith says he was overjoyed, because the quadratic equation solved many programming problems he had previously encountered.
Michael Finnegan, co-founder of QuantumCamp, based in Mountain View and Berkeley, says his camp teaches students some important history. "'How were the ideas originally discovered?’ That’s what we have the students do. And they rediscover the grand ideas that define science and math today,” Finnegan explains.
According to Bloomberg News, U.S. students ranked 25th out of 34 countries in mathematics testing and scored somewhere near the middle for science prowess.
The percentage of scientific publications published in the United States between 2002 and 2007 decreased from 26 percent to 21 percent compared to the rest of the world, according to the Guardian newspaper. During the same time period, China’s percentage rose 4.4 percent to 10.2 percent.
The Guardian predicts it is quite possible that China could overtake the top position from the United States by 2013.
Science camps aim to begin to restore the diminishing interest and expertise in science and mathematics in the United States today.
Alexis Sarabia is a student at Santa Clara University. He produced this piece as part of a journalism class taught by Sally Lehrman and as part of a collaborative project with Patch on science in Silicon Valley.