Every year before our summer STEM camps are underway we host instructor training to prepare teachers and students how to run our STEM camps. Instructor training week serves a dual purpose: to prep instructors with camp curriculum and operating procedures, but more importantly it expands regional STEM capacity through the professional development in STEM such as robotics, computer Science, CAD and cybersecurity.
As the STEM outreach arm of NOVA, our summer STEM camps (for 3 to 12 graders) have been active since 2009 and have increased from 48 students in the first year to over 600 this summer. Camps offered include Robotics, Rocketry, Programming, CAD-3D Printing and Cybersecurity, which are available throughout PWC, Loudoun and Fairfax counties.
During training each instructor goes through the curriculum as if they were a student taking the camp. For a robotics course that involves assembling, programming, and driving a robot. For more advanced subjects, like cybersecurity, instructors are drilled on securing open networks and operating defense techniques. For rocketry they build a rocket that will launch at the end of the camp week. This hands-on approach is essential in teaching and leads to effective instruction once camps are started.
Many of the instructors are students who have been inspired by previous STEM camps. Nate Wooley, a recent HS graduate and robotics competition veteran, wants to give back, saying “I started my robotics experience in a summer camp. It has completely reshaped my life and given me a passion that I can pursue. I have been participating in SySTEMic Solutions’ competitions and camps for 3 years now and recently won the VA VEX State Championship. Teaching for SySTEMic makes me happy that I can give other people the chance to enjoy robotics as I have.”
Another recent HS grad now engaged as a camp instructor, Cori Brodowski, also started in our summer camps and wants to help define a path for more girls in STEM. “I have always been the only teenage girl on my teaching team through the years. The most inspirational thing about this job is helping other girls get on their feet in STEM. I grew up with engineers as parents, and I’ve always excelled at math and science. I know a lot of girls don’t have that and are stereotyped as not able to do STEM careers. Working at STEM camps is a great opportunity to help girls see that they can break that stereotype and are just as capable at STEM as anyone else.”
Ryan Osweiler, an instructional technology and robotics coach at Triangle ES and one of the mainstay instructors for SySTEMic Solutions’ summer camps, is enthusiastic about what instructor training provides. “We never stop learning. I gather new ideas from coaches at training – even new ones. I enjoy seeing students who attended camp years ago come back and teach. Most of these students are in or have completed high school and/or college level robotics and bring valuable insights and knowledge.”
STEM camps and instructor training are inspirational, but NOVA is not just in the business of inspiration. Through this training we’re helping expand regional STEM capacity by providing co-curricular experience for students and teachers. But more than that NOVA has a large offering of STEM degrees and certificates through credit, adult learner and workforce development leading to careers in the regional workforce.