Earlier this year during a Voxer chat, one of my friends mentioned her plans of running an innovation camp for students this summer. It was so awesome to hear her excitement about this venture and the experiences it would provide her district’s students. This excitement was infectious and sparked feelings in me to create and make available a camp experience for Creekland’s students. Even though I had doubt in my ability to make a camp happen, I presented my proposal to run a STEM/Maker camp to my principal in late March. I told him wanted to create a camp experience that allowed for new and engaging learning experiences helping to serve as a springboard for the direction our school wants to go next year. On the spot, I received his blessing. Soon after his approval, I was lucky enough to get one of our school’s top teachers to offer to lead the science and math sessions at camp. After receiving support from these two key individuals, my excitement levels increased, I turned down the volume on my internal doubts, and the first annual Creekland Middle School STEM/Maker camp was born.
Organizing and leading a camp for the first time was quite a learning experience. During this process, I was able to learn a lot about myself as well as learn more about Creekland’s students. Here are my takeaways from my first year running a STEM/Maker Camp:
- Be organized. I am very detail oriented, type A personality which was tremendously helpful for creating this event. Developing a clear plan for the STEM/Maker camp and organizing that vision into a tangible step by step checklist was huge. From having lunch provided at a reasonable price delivered on time, to developing the daily schedule, to printing certificates, being organized was a key to successful camp. So make sure you have your spreadsheet skills ready!
- Get crafty. One of my participants gave me feedback and said she wished there were more arts and crafts. Art is something I am not comfortable with (I know it is not about me), but with my first year running camp I wanted to stay in my lane. We had two sessions daily for students to rotate between science and math in one room and technology and engineering in the other. I know next year I need to do a better job of incorporating more maker, creativity, artsy activities during camp to spark excitement in all participants.
- Allow students time to be heard. I made a point to allow all of the participants to express themselves. Some expressed themselves vocally during camp, others used our anonymous survey on the last day to express themselves. Their expression gave me raw, unedited feedback which is best to hear so that I can improve. It also empowered the participants because they realized I cared about their camp experience and their opinions. Providing time for students (yes even middle school students) to give feedback is not only helpful for the camp organizer but gives those students a bit of ownership of their camp experience.
- Allow variety. Camp helped me realize once students receive the opportunity and are lukewarm or cold towards it, it’s my responsibility to offer on the fly the chance to tinker with something else that captures their interest. I learned after the first day of camp, not all students wanted to code. Although I think coding is an excellent activity for students to experience, it is not something all the campers enjoyed doing. So day two when students were in the technology/engineering session with me, I made an effort to offer alternative activities besides coding. Students could build with Legos or Strawbees, tinker with SnapCircuits, and even do a little exploring with a Google Cardboard. I think introducing some variety during sessions our campers really appreciated.
- Don’t compare and be uncomfortable. I mentioned in a previous post that comparison is dangerous and can be so deflating. I had to catch myself falling in the comparison black hole, measuring my abilities against others and my camp against other camps. I harshly examined all my shortcomings during the camp planning and even had a relapse after a successful first day . Here’s the list of shortcomings I devised in my head:
- Lack of experience with coding
- No experience running a camp
- No experience with maker ideas
- Not a large number of camp registrations
- No cool swag or gifts to give campers
Remembering that camp was not about me and my ego but instead about providing a new experience for at least one student at my school, I was able to be content with being uncomfortable and watching the magic of camp happen. I remembered to not let what I don’t know or have never done hinder me from enjoying camp for what it was, a fun learning experience for our participants and me.
Overall, we were blessed with a successful first ever STEM/Maker camp at Creekland Middle School this week. Although I was extremely exhausted after Thursday, I was also very happy to provide this awesome opportunity for our students. Based on the feedback I received from kids, they truly enjoyed camp and are excited about the possibility of making, tinkering, creating, and coding more once we return to school in August. In my role as technology coordinator, I will continue to brush aside the thoughts of inadequacy, and the “we’ve never done that before” statements and continue to change people’s mindsets including my own. This STEM/Maker camp was a huge nudge in the right direction for my vision to use technology to enhance learning and to provide innovative opportunities for all students at our school. Our students, teachers, administrators, and parents are starting to realize this is a new and exciting time at Creekland Middle School. With our collective efforts, students will continue to experience great things when adults get out of our own way, think outside of the box, make an effort, and have fun!