New Jersey's AAUW TechTrek STEM camp was held last week at Stockton University. The journey to get there was long for the campers. Each girl was nominated from her middle school, wrote an essay, interviewed with a team of volunteers, and was ultimately chosen to be one of the sixty-two girls who were accepted. Each camper's family paid only $50 for the week; the rest was paid for by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), community donations, and alumni donations.
Their week consisted of core STEM classes (Coding, Cybersecurity, Makerspace, Sustainable Water, and Aeronautical Engineering), afternoon workshops (hands-on engineering as they made flashlights and paper race cars, geometric art, origami, Unifix Cubes, Chemistry of Cuisine, Little Bits, tie dye, lasers, etc.), and field trips (the FAA at the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Galloway, drone flying, nature walks, seining Lake Fred and analyzing the collected specimens in the lab). In addition, they slept in the campus dorms, ate surprisingly tasty cafeteria food, and participated in nightly activities such as fencing and volleyball. They also made ice cream, watched Hidden Figures, and participated in numerous team-building exercises. On Thursday night, the girls dressed up and networked with dozens of professional women from our community who work in STEM-related jobs. Here they learned about fields of study they had never heard of, as well as discussed both the challenges and advantages of being a woman in STEM.
I had the privilege of working as the curriculum coordinator for the program, as well as teaching the coding class. We used a program called Earsketch, where students used the Python language to code their own songs, layering pre-made tracks and adding effects to create (mostly) aesthetically pleasing music. When planning this core class, I had no idea what kind of experience my campers would have had with coding, so I planned as if they had very little. Surprisingly, I was right. The majority of the girls had completed the Hour of Code annually for the last couple of years, however two of my eleven students had never done any coding at all. The most advanced of the girls had never used anything more than the block coding found in Scratch or code.org. We started with a number of fun unplugged activities to teach computational thinking, debugging, and functions. By the end of the week, all of the girls had created a song that they were proud of and excited to share with their loved ones when they got home.
I played each girl's song for the group, they had a blind vote, and we picked a winner. Here is Mei's song:
Here are rest of the songs. Click on the links, click Run, then click Play. We had about twenty minutes left of class on the last day, so I tasked my campers to create a music video with Mei's winning song. It took them a few minutes to get started, and then they split into two groups. Here is what one group came up with:
I know I shouldn't, but I am incredibly envious of these girls that they had this opportunity and these experiences. More so, though, I am honored that I was allowed to be a part of this program and experience it vicariously through the girls. They were SO happy, and SO grateful. Being with these girls reminded me why I love being a teacher; they were eager, respectful, and motivated. I cannot wait to come back next year!
Here are some photos from our day of field trips. (Ignore the short red-heads. They might have hitched a ride from my house.)
I intend this blog to be a reflection journal of sorts, on topics such as teaching, leadership, pedagogy, and tacos.