NIU summer campers encountered the magic of science

NIU STEM Educator Jeremy Benson exploring science concepts with students entering grades 5 and 6 during “It’s not magic, it’s STEM” summer camp.

NIU STEM Educator and camp director Jeremy Benson has a gift for engaging students of all ages in the wonders of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). This year, he and his colleagues at NIU STEAM captured students’ imaginations with a summer camp based on everyone’s favorite school of witchcraft and wizardry.

“It’s not magic, it’s STEM!” camp, designed for students entering grades 5 and 6, showed campers that when things look like magic, an exciting new scientific discovery is just waiting to be uncovered.

“Our STEM staff was motivated to create a unique camp experience this summer – the feel of a magic school embedded with science, technology, engineering and mathematics concepts,” says NIU STEM Outreach Director Pati Sievert. “The campers were excited from the start and highly engaged in the activities throughout the whole week.”

The magic-school themed camp divided students into four houses that competed to earn points through lessons and extracurricular activities. Some of the students’ favorite activities included Potions (chemistry), Care of Magical Creatures (genetics and how animals get their traits), Transfiguration (using 3D printer filament and electronics to create motion reactive light-up LED wands), and Defense against the Dark Arts (critically evaluating information gathered from the internet using Carl Sagan’s “Boloney Detection Kit”).

“My favorite camp activity was making my own wand,” said one camper. “I like to build things like objects or my own video game creations.”

“The best part of camp was scavenger hunting and puzzles,” added another camper. “I especially love logic puzzles. I like doing things with riddles or clues.”

Another ten-year-old camper said, “Because of my experience at camp, I am more interested in technology and science.”

This camp was so successful that plans are already in the works to expand it for next summer. “The kids we had this year made me promise that I would design new second-year classes so that they can all come back again next year,” says Benson.

“Since this was the first year we ran this camp, I learned a lot about what worked well and not as well,” he continues. “I’m excited to start working on improvements for next year, along with adding some new classes for our returning campers.”

“The magic of the camp was the enthusiasm of the instructors, counselors and campers,” says Sievert.

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