Not your Typical “Summer School”

A collage of images featuring students learning to code.

For middle and high school students in Georgia, a unique summer learning program is taking math and science class to a whole new level.

The Summer STEM Program was founded by the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for Integrating Science, Math, and Computing. It consists of a transportation-themed camp that takes place over the summer break. Over the course of two weeks, students from Chamblee Middle School and Forest Park High School become transportation engineers. They build robotic LEGO vehicles. They create their own transportation-themed smartphone applications. They meet and attend talks with Georgia Tech engineering students. They even tour real-world transportation facilities like the Traffic Management Center in Atlanta.

“We really connect them to a real-life experience,” said Richard Terning. Terning is a physical science teacher at Chamblee. He is one of three outstanding teachers from the Atlanta area selected to lead the summer program. The other program leaders are Art Williams, a math teacher at Forest Park, and Cindee De Veaux, a math teacher at Chamblee.

During the summer program, students are introduced to 21st century concepts that would probably leave a few adults scratching their heads. But the way the program’s content is structured and presented makes things seem more fun than challenging.

In the Advanced App Development activity, students learn to create functional smartphone applications. This is the perfect hands-on introduction to software engineering. The LEGO robotics activity—which involves designing, building, and racing LEGO vehicles—sounds like just another fun way to spend a summer afternoon, but it truly gives students a feel for the way transportation engineers think and work.

“They’re receiving a million-dollars-worth of information in my opinion,” Williams said. “They’re going to be able to go back to their school and have higher confidence. It should stimulate more interest in engineering, and also give them the confidence where they can say, ‘I think I could move into an engineering field or be a computer scientist.’”

“Being able to actually come out and do things that people are doing in the real world is helpful to transfer back to the classroom,” said De Veaux.

Educators say transportation makes the perfect theme because it combines concepts from engineering and computer science. Touring the Transportation Management Center in Atlanta showed students a fully-functional operations center in action. This served as a real-world example of the way computer scientists and engineers work together to manage traffic in a busy metropolitan area.

Participants also meet and interact with transportation engineering students from Georgia Tech. This shows students that people not much older than themselves are becoming professional computer scientists and transportation engineers.

“It’s great for [the students] to see real-life graduate students and researchers,” Terning said.

The Summer STEM program is scheduled to run for its third year in 2015. To learn more about the program, click here. And make sure to keep following Fast Forward to learn more about similar extracurricular programs near you!

Aaron Mack
Fast Forward: Volume 2 Issue 4 – Pipeline