JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —
Nine-year-old Gabriel Ping’s excitement was palpable as he talked about an arcade game project he and his teammates were designing during summer camp.
The Pac-Man-inspired project even had him thinking way ahead – about a possible career.
“My favorite thing (about this camp) was being able to start my own arcade game,” the Randolph Elementary School fifth-grader said. “It makes me want to continue doing this. I’d like to be a video game designer or tester.”
Gabriel joined 44 other Randolph Field Independent School District elementary- and middle-school students who shared his enthusiasm as they flew drones, programmed robots, learned about coding, designed shoes – and created arcade games – at the district’s first-ever STEAM camp from June 17-20.
STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – is a widely known acronym, but this camp gets its name by adding “A” for Arts since the students engage in projects that require artistic ability and creativity.
“This is the first year for this camp,” said Rachel Trevino, Randolph Field ISD STEM grant project director. “Through a recent grant from the Department of Defense Education Activity, we’re able to provide this camp to our students.”
The enrichment camp is part of a $1.2 million DODEA grant that was awarded to the district in May 2018.
“This is year one of a five-year grant,” said Brian Grenier, RFISD chief technology officer. “Before submitting our application, we met with teachers, administrators and other staff members to get a general sense of what would be helpful for our students.”
The STEM-centered grant project, called “Formulating Our Futures: All SySTEMs Go,” is focused on strategies such as “offering additional STEM-related extracurricular activities, providing students with learning spaces designed to support student-centered active teaching and learning, strengthening pedagogical frameworks, providing students with 21st-century tools and developing a summer enrichment program.”
The district partnered with the Region XX Education Service Center, which was represented by instructional technology specialists Ann Hargrove and Dave Mullinex, to present the camp.
“We met with them to plan the week,” Trevino said. “We focused on certain topics that are related to STEM, such as robotics, coding and design thinking.”
The students worked with beginner robots and with more advanced robots, which was one of the favorite parts of the camp for 11-year-old sixth-grader Lindsey Howard.
“We talked about what kind of dance we wanted the robots to do, then we programmed them to do a synchronized dance using a coding app,” she said.
Lindsey said she also worked with a product that uses conductive and insulating play dough to teach the basics of electrical circuits.
“I’ve done circuits before, but not with play dough,” she said.
Students also used invention kits containing USB cables, alligator clips and connector wires that allow users to connect everyday conductive objects like bananas to computer programs.
Ariana Daniels, RFISD instructional technology specialist, said the kits used at the camp are affordable, so the students can further their knowledge at home.
“The kits are not over-the-top expensive; they’re accessible to parents to buy the kits so their children can use them later,” she said. “They’re also using things you can find at the dollar store.”
Special projects at the camp included shoe design with guidance from a Randolph High School graduate who is now a product designer for a footwear and sports apparel manufacturer, and the “Cardboard Challenge,” the construction of arcade games that students showcased in front of their parents on the last day of the camp.
Earlier in the week, students traveled to a local pizza restaurant that is a popular spot for children’s parties to look at arcade games and get ideas for the Cardboard Challenge.
Grenier said he hoped the camp would inspire students.
“I hope they leave with a desire to explore STEM further,” he said. “If we have instilled a sense of excitement, then we’ve been successful.”
Lindsey and Gabriel gave the camp ringing endorsements.
“I’m thinking more about science and math,” Lindsey said. “It’s a really fun camp; I like everything we’re doing.”
For Gabriel, though, the camp was not long enough.
“I like the camp so much that I would like for it to be expanded for another week or two,” he said.