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Sunshine and STEM: The Advantages of Summer Science Learning Programs

Learning doesn’t have to take a vacation over summer break. In fact, school administrators, the US Department of Education, and groups such as the Harvard Family Research Project agree that K–12 students benefit from year-round learning opportunities. 

For STEM specifically, organizations such as the National Research Council and the National Science Teaching Association have highlighted the importance of providing students with rich learning experiences during the school year and beyond.

Although engaging and relevant science education happens in traditional classroom settings, summer can be a great time to elevate and/or increase experiential STEM learning opportunities. 

In addition, the National Summer Learning Association has identified several benefits of summer STEM learning programs: 

  • “Summer offers a unique opportunity for students to engage in STEM learning in ways that mirror real-world needs, while also drawing on the practices that make these learning activities most successful.” 
  • “STEM summer programs, specifically, offer a unique and multifaceted opportunity to maintain and build core skills in math and literacy during the high-risk summer months while engaging young people in hands-on, inquiry-based learning that motivates and engages.”

The US Department of Education has also prioritized the availability of extended learning opportunities for STEM and other subjects. The federal American Recovery Plan, which provided $130 billion in funding to states and districts to help schools reopen during and recover from the pandemic, required that at least 1 percent of funds be used to support summer learning and enrichment programs.

Put another way, given increasing emphasis on academic recovery, summer STEM learning programs are shaping up to be especially timely and important today.

Summer Camps and STEM Learning

Design Connect Create, a Dallas-based nonprofit whose mission is “to help girls realize the potential in STEM and themselves,” provides summer STEM learning experiences through and with school district partners in Texas.

For example, Design Connect Create offers several summer camps:

  • AccelerateHER, which is geared toward girls in grades 6–12, focuses on designing projects with engineering processes and connecting STEM to arts and physics.
  • CodeHER, which is geared toward girls in grades 6–12, focuses on developing website projects using HTML/CSS, JavaScript®, and Python®.
  • BiotechHER, which is geared toward girls in grades 9–12, focuses on investigating genetics using biotech lab techniques with real-word applications. 

Danielle Moore, director of operations for Design Connect Create, said these summer camps combine STEM skills and career exposure for girls, with an emphasis on social and emotional intelligence.

“This unique combination prepares girls to thrive in STEM and beyond—girls who participate in our programs leave with more confidence in their STEM abilities,” she said. “These opportunities create safe learning spaces for girls to connect with female role models in STEM to guide them on the road to academic, career, and life success.”

Moore, a former STEM teacher and school administrator, also said summer STEM programs should be fun, explorative educational experiences that encourage autonomous learning.

“STEM summer programming maximizes students’ creativity and achievement while connecting them through experiences to the world they need to navigate,” Moore said. “These hands-on learning experiences not only keep students engaged but also assist with enhancing confidence in academics.”

Supporting Students All Year

School leaders are looking for summer STEM learning opportunities that align with and bolster school-day learning objectives so that students persist and succeed in STEM. This approach to science education is not an either/or proposition or a one-time tactic. Rather, it’s an integrated and long-term strategy. 

As one Texas public school administrator recently said, “It’s our responsibility to provide, support, and leverage meaningful STEM learning experiences for all students year-round.”

In a 2017 Conference Daily Online article, Dr. Tommy Chang, the former superintendent of Boston Public Schools (BPS), echoed these sentiments. He also emphasized the importance of partnering with organizations to deliver enjoyable learning experiences, citing a collaboration between BPS and Courageous Sailing to provide “new academic adventures.”

“We have shifted from summer school to summer learning,” Chang said. “We want it to be fun. We want to make it fun for young people.”

Vernier is dedicated to supporting relevant and engaging STEM learning year-round because we know learning occurs anywhere, anytime. For educators looking for support, we offer personalized training to help you deliver hands-on science learning all year.

In addition, we have an online library featuring more than 1,000 science experiments that can help you inspire students and integrate data-collection technology into your STEM class, summer camp, and/or after-school program.

We also offer a grant-writing guide for educators looking for ways to fund year-round or summer STEM learning programs. 

We’d love to hear how you’re promoting relevant, engaging STEM learning this summer! Share your experiences with us on Facebook and Twitter

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