By Seth Daniel
Maybe it’s in the water.
Maybe it’s a covert experiment.
Whatever it might be, while most students headed for the beach or snoozed late into the day, nearly 73 students voluntarily flocked to the Paul Revere School over School Vacation Week to participate in STEM Camp – a three-day instructional camp full of science experiments and engineering project.
The free program is in its second year, running on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and accommodating students from age 8-12.
Principal Barbara Kelly said last year they only had the camp for grade 5, but soon saw that it was popular enough to expand this year. Next year they are hoping to expand it even further by going from kindergarten to grade 5.
“All of these kids are giving up their break to come here to the school and do science,” said Kelly. “That’s really exciting. For me to see them coming in so happy every morning is great. Some of them were so happy to come back to school they were dancing on the way in.”
The program is only made possible, however, due to the fact that the Paul Revere is an innovation school. Teachers volunteer to teach science and engineering classes during the three days in order to bank hours that they can use at other times of the year.
This is not possible in other schools where the traditional teacher’s contract is in effect. But, due to the innovation status, the Paul Revere is outside of that contract and can be more flexible. That allows Kelly to seek volunteers for things like STEM camp, and many teachers take the opportunity so they can have a few hours banked for when they might need it.
This year, she said eight teachers volunteered to instruct at STEM Camp over the Vacation week. The teachers do not get paid for their participation.
“A lot of them have little kids and need to go to a school play, to take them to the doctor or to a youth sport,” said Kelly. “For some of them, their husbands are firefighters and so they need an hour here or there. I have the flexibility to give them that time out of their banked hours through the school year.”
She said the eight teachers met prior to STEM Camp with teachers in the sciences to make sure the lessons and experiments reinforced material that was being taught in the classroom.
They planned a curriculum during the course of three meetings, the cafeteria served breakfast, and Kelly was able to secure lunch via donations from McDonald’s on Squire Road and from Cisco Systems.
However, some teachers chose to return for more than just banking hours to use later. Most of them said they just really love teaching.
“I think the work we concentrated on was very effective, and they learned about matter – solids, liquids and gases,” said Caitlin Loucks. “It’s a lot of hands-on experiments and the kids really enjoy that…I think it’s a great idea. I love teaching and working with students and watching them make these connections. I love watching that light bulb come on when they’re learning. That, to me, is better than break.”
In the various classrooms last Thursday, students could be found making homemade lava lamps to learn about liquids, engineering balloon towers and creating home-made roller coasters.
Laughing and, at the same time, focusing on the task, they tried, tried and tried again using what they knew from science to find success.
That, Kelly said, was one of the best parts of the STEM Camp.
Students have the freedom and time during the camp to try several ways to succeed, sometimes failing, but being able to work together to find a solution.
“A lot of the experiments don’t work the first time,” she said. “They had to redesign and try again. It helps them to not just give up and to be up to the challenge. They work with each other and learn to persevere. The kids are making each other sharper by doing this.”
And to a person, they seemed pretty happy in doing so, even though it meant sacrificing their time away from school.
“STEM Camp is one of the best things I have done in my entire life,” said Christopher Choc-Chavez, who attended with his sister. “The experiments were so fun because at home I can’t do them because I don’t have all the right materials. We can come here and they have everything and show us how to do it and it’s fun.”