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New Jersey Army National Guard STEAM summer camp a roaring success with students

Published November 27, 2019

Any student with access to the Internet has a world of information at their fingertips. Often still in short supply, however, are the hands-on experiences that give that information meaning and relevance to life. When the New Jersey Army National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion developed a sleepaway STEAM summer camp for students ages 13 to 17, this relevance was put front and center. The result? Maximum engagement.

According to First Lieutenant Douglas Mattei, who developed the concept for the 2019 camp with his team, the goal was to challenge students to make connections between STEAM concepts and careers in both the military and civilian life – while also engaging them in fun, hands-on activities. “We are capturing that high school age demographic while exposing them to STEM careers and maybe giving them an idea of a path they would like to take,” he explained.

As in previous STEAM offerings provided by the New Jersey Army National Guard, Pitsco educational products played a significant role. What follows is just a sample of the fun activities students partook in.

An air-powered rocketry competition served as a fun way to explore mathematical concepts such as trajectory, force, and fuel calculation. Officers drew a connection between the amount of air pumped into the student-created rockets and the amount of combustible fuel used in military rockets. “We explained that this is a very math-heavy concept. It isn’t just fire and forget,” said Mattei. “This is one of the most devastating things on the battlefield, so you can’t be wrong.” Students worked in teams of two to discover the right pressure and the right angle to make their rocket hit the target.

The use of coding, video, and sensor technology came into focus during an activity in which students raced TETRIX® MAX robots through a maze using only the video feed supplied by cameras mounted on the robots. Students programmed the robots themselves, after a crash course in programming by Guard officers.

A fully assembled Mr. Robot showcased the cool factor inherent in robotics. Students used remote control to pilot Mr. Robot forward, pick up a bag of chips, and return with it. As Mattei recalled, “The kids really enjoyed having a full-size robot to drive around. It was less about picking up the bag of chips and more about ‘Hey, check it out! I’m driving this robot!’”

The A in STEAM came into play especially in the Pitsco water rocketry activity, in which students designed and decorated their rockets – and in an activity exploring the importance of unit heraldry in the military. In this activity, students designed patches, which were then made by graphic designer students from a local college and actually used by the students at the camp.

According to Mattei, the Pitsco products were “spot on” in their ability to match hands-on experiences to career relevancy. But were the students engaged? He paraphrased the persistent refrain he heard from students during the camp: “I want to play. Give me stuff to do. Put something in my hand. I don’t want to talk about sniper rifles or mortar tubes. I want to build a rocket. I want to build a race car with a TETRIX MAX kit.”

In fact, this level of extreme engagement even produced a slight problem, which the battalion hopes to address next time around. “Next year, we need to develop some better control measures because the kids were having so much fun with the activities. They were getting loud. It was all kinds of crazy.

“But,” as Mattei adds with a smile, “that’s a great problem to have.”

“What I took away from the seminar and STEM Camp was an excitement to see how students and teachers would adapt to the new STEM programs. With Pitsco’s help, I felt more confident in my role as the teacher in leading and assisting my students to be successful.”

– Jana Price, engineering instructor, UMS-Wright, Mobile, Alabama

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