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Purdue Summer STEM Camp, a Model for Online Learning

Zoe Barnas was so taken with a homework assignment to use a light and battery to create an electrical circuit that she came running out of her room to show her parents.

This was a fun part of a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics camp for fourth graders coordinated by Homewood Science Center in conjunction with Explore Interactive, a Purdue University startup and the Museum of Science, Boston. The virtual camp was able to hook students on science, parents said.

“Besides the class as just another thing to keep her engaged during a very, very strange summer, I think it helps her in terms of just understanding the possibilities of what’s out there in the science field,” said Scott Barnas, Zoe’s dad, who lives in Homewood.

“It’s been good in terms of not just basic science skills but also getting an idea in terms of real-world applications and what people who are engineers and scientists actually do,” said Barnas, a music teacher who hopes to use the camp as a model for his online courses.

The camp uses MindLabs, Explore Interactive’s newest platform, to bring augmented reality and a collaborative approach to children. Augmented reality uses computer-generated images of real objects to help teach various concepts.

The center supplies students with a small plastic bag filled with a flashlight, battery and other supplies, which is what Zoe was using for her homework assignment, as well as loaner iPads.

Students use an actual card scanned onto their iPad to display different electrical concepts, which are guided by a small robot on screen.

Amanda Thompson, CEO of Explore Interactive, said the camp could prove especially helpful during the pandemic.

“What’s happening with STEM education with science and engineering, especially with young ages, is when they’re told to be remote and stay at home, teachers don’t have an option with what to do,” said Thompson. “That’s what’s really exciting is that with an iPad, it feels like they’re still working together on an engineering project, even though they’re not together.”

Thompson, who also teaches MBA classes in the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University, said the camp also helps teach how to search for problems and then fix them.

“That skill set, troubleshooting and engineering design, applies to different STEM areas and life,” said Thompson.

Edie Dobrez, executive director of the Homewood Science Center, said the augmented reality program created an important hook for students.

“It’s an engaging hook using technology and a lot of the technology is used in video games,” said Dobrez. “One problem with hands-on learning is you need a lot of supplies … Kids are moving cards around instead of using an actual circuit, which can be dangerous.”

When students get confused, they can also turn to each other, said Tony Graves of Homewood, whose son, Johnny Charles, 9, was in the camp

“He likes the fact that he has classmates he can use as an example and follow along with in class,” said Graves.

Graves said he also thought the camp was a good segue to school.

Brandi Hardin of Robbins, who works at the center, said her daughter Kacie, 8, and niece April, 10, like the augmented reality portion of the learning and finding out how electricity works.

“I think they also like being in a classroom with other kids, especially seeing that they didn’t finish school the normal way, so it’s a great way for them to socialize,” Hardin said.



Janice Neumann is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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