Martinsville City Public Schools’ summer virtual STEM and Robotics camps received overwhelmingly positive reviews from students and parents, and helped refine virtual learning techniques for the upcoming academic year.
The virtual robotics camp was held June 15-18 for students who completed third through eighth grades. Students used an online robotics platform and interactive Zoom meetings during the camp.
A virtual STEM camp was held June 22-25. Students who completed kindergarten through first grade participated with family STEM kits.
Students in third through fifth grade met virtually in Zoom meetings with other MCPS students using STEM kits. The school division also extended the robotics camp another week, running it simultaneously with the STEM camp.
More than 100 MCPS students participated in both camps. Students were guided through the camps by instructors from Albert Harris Elementary School, Patrick Henry Elementary School, and Martinsville Middle School, who worked to bring the virtual experience to life.
The city school division originally planned to only hold the two June camps, but after overwhelming feedback from parents and students, camp was extended an additional week in July.
Camp organizers Elizabeth Lynch, Patrick Henry Elementary School STEM teacher, and Elizabeth Fulcher, the division’s STEM and Career coordinator, brainstormed with teachers and leadership before deciding to do STEM camps based on instructor’s interests that involve STEM skills and future career explorations.Students who completed second through eighth grades were offered courses in Cooking, Video Production, Digital Music Production, Coding, or a Makers Camp.
Students who completed kindergarten and first grade were offered to participate in virtual meetings to gain experience about how they learn and interact in an online environment. Each day had a different theme including Space, Bubbles, Water, and Dinosaurs, with four to five different activities each day.
These camps ran from July 13-20 and had more than 112 students, including almost 40 kindergarten and first graders. At the culmination of the July camps, students continued to request longer camp days and extensions.
Feedback from parents included:
“Very hands on even though it was virtual. If this is how virtual learning for the upcoming school year will be, I feel a lot more comfortable about it.” – Primary Parent
“I can’t really think of a downside to camp. It all worked well and ran smoothly.” – Rising Fifth Grade parent.
“It keeps the children engaged and thinking with lots of hands on activities and learning in the process” – Rising Fourth Grade parent.
“We would be happy to be able to participate in more of these and hope that the online curriculum for students this fall will allow more time for hands on STEM classes through the week instead of having to wait for a specific day of the week” – Rising Sixth Grade parent
“My child was engaged and excited about her projects” – Eighth Grade parent
The school division’s camp goal was to provide an engaging and fun environment for students. In addition to meeting their goal, valuable insight was obtained on enhancing virtual learning as the division prepares to open under Phase 1 of its proposed reopening plan, with all students to learn virtually.
Some of the lessons from the camps were:
Preparation is key, and it takes two to three times as long as in person instruction. Having individually labeled supplies for each activity accessible helps with transitions and creates a smooth experience.
Group size matters. If students are not engaged, they can easily walk away, shut the computer, or space out. Having small groups enables the instructor to keep each participant engaged. Break out rooms are excellent for this.
Parents are excited to partner in these activities and were impressed by how many families wanted to interact in the learning process.
The youngest learners also were the ones most excited to participate, and seemed the least troubled by technical issues or bumps in the experience.
“We are excited about the overwhelmingly positive response from our families and staff,” said Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Angilee Downing. “This was an opportunity to pilot integrating hands-on and virtual learning, and it was a great success. We look forward to expanding the work done this summer into providing engaging, hands-on virtual experiences for our students in the fall.”