South Orangetown Central School District

For its fifth consecutive year, SOCSD Summer STEAM Camp has extended student learning through a fun, exploration-oriented environment. More than 220 K-8 campers participated in this year’s virtual program, which was led by 22 elementary and secondary faculty members.

“We hired teachers prior to the school closing and most had worked at STEAM Camp before and were becoming experienced with distance learning, so we were in a strong position to pivot to virtual,” explained Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Brian Culot, Ed.D.. “We built in extra planning time and, within a week, camp staff submitted supply lists and we began ordering and figuring out logistics.”

Culot said that distance learning feedback from staff, students and families also shaped the program. “It was a change from what our kids had experienced in an online platform last spring in a number of ways. Through camp, they were able to use manipulatives and create hands-on projects. Teachers also had supplies to model experiments. We also restructured the daily program so that campers had a set schedule in which teachers were live at the start of every session,” he noted. “It has informed our thinking about what the upcoming school year should look like, knowing that we’ll likely be in some sort of digital learning environment for the near future. We’ve heard from many of our parents that camp was ‘like magic’ for kids and that they’re hopeful that future online learning will be very similar to this experience.”

Since its inception, SOCSD has offered its two-week, half-day Summer STEAM Camp at no cost to participating families. Students eligible for free and reduced lunch and our English Language Learners are given registration priority to ensure their access to academic enrichment every summer and, typically, busing and snacks are provided. This year, to ensure that all campers could fully participate in a virtual camp experience, the District home-delivered supply packages containing everything they needed to create, design, build and experiment.

Camp offerings align with grade-level curriculum and provide opportunities for students to dive deeper into topics of interest. “Allowing students to extend their learning from the classroom to other experiences is very important in cementing the understanding of the science and engineering concepts in their brain,” said Instructional Science Coach and STEAM Camp Co-Coordinator Samantha Levine. “Next Generation Science Standards lessons are based on the ‘five E’s’: engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate. In school, students engage with topics, explore the science concepts and explain what they learned. However, due to time constraints, the elaboration piece is saved for certain concepts where larger projects can be incorporated. Elaborating science concepts is part of all STEAM Camp activities, as campers apply their science knowledge to new ideas and situations in creative, delightful ways.”

Campers in Tappan Zee High School art teacher Donna Grasso’s group created glowing glitter jars to learn about the properties of light, a first-grade science unit. Tappan Zee High School science teacher Nicole Lai’s campers built boats and marble runs, projects which connect directly to third-grade engineering curriculum which challenges students to generate and compare multiple solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. Fourth- and fifth-grade campers working with William O. Schaefer Elementary School teacher Chris Speno cross-trained on math, science and physical education skills as they studied heart rate. Other offerings included digital art, ocean life, earth science, mindfulness and more.

Experience with distance learning this spring informed Cottage Lane Elementary School teacher Jennifer Grennan’s approach to her STEAM Camp sessions. Her campers focused on the Engineering Design Process and used three materials–cups, popsicle sticks and wood blocks–to meet different criteria each day to design a tower. “One of the more challenging aspects of distance learning was creating ways for students to benefit from immediate, authentic feedback and collaboration with their peers. As we all became more comfortable navigating Zoom, we started using the breakout room feature to facilitate collaboration–and it has been useful for STEAM Camp, too,” said Grennan. “It provides campers who are working independently on the engineering design process at home with a way to discuss their ideas, plans, designs and challenges. It’s helped them connect with one another to share their thinking and brainstorm ways to improve their projects.”

South Orangetown Middle School science teacher Eric Goldstein is a STEAM Camp veteran. “We all knew things were going to be different this summer. In choosing lessons this time around, I wanted to do something fun, safe and affordable that we could share and enjoy over Zoom sessions,” he said. “I decided to have the students make slime and Oobleck.”

These projects exposed middle school campers to chemistry and the scientific method, as they experimented with the proportions of ingredients and determined the effect on the substances they created. “Fun for any age, lots to talk about, messy and yet easy enough for me to walk them through each step as needed. I also knew that some students would already have some experience with Slime and Oobleck, so I looked to bring the science perspective to this, giving a nice twist to some good old fun!”

Families and staff view Summer STEAM Camp as a valuable component of the District’s academic and social emotional programming. “Student engagement helps prevent the ‘slide’ that typically happens when kids are out of school. This summer, however, it’s even more important,” explained School Social Worker and STEAM Camp Co-Coordinator Jessenia Cursio. “When schools closed, students lost the opportunity to, among many other things, socialize while working in groups with their friends. While we couldn’t offer kids the full experience of an in-person STEAM Camp this year, I am so happy that they had the opportunity to engage in fun, virtual group projects with their friends in a relaxed environment. Kids need this type of interaction to stay motivated and to stay hopeful. It helps them understand that while things may not be ‘normal’ right now, school is still a place for friendship, collaboration and where learning can be fun–even if we are not physically together.”

Thanks to all the teachers and camp families…and campers: keep creating!

More photos on the SOCSD Facebook post.

Student conducting outdoor experiment