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WSU-Rochester STEM camp prepares students for success

WSU-Rochester STEM camp prepares students for success

A crowd of elementary-aged children pretending to be Sherlock Holmes could be seen at Riverside Central Elementary School on Thursday, and thankfully their good forensic work paid off when the criminal was apprehended.

The forensic activity was just one of a handful of experiences put on by Winona State University-Rochester as part of the 9th annual STEM Camp, a four-day event held at Riverside and Gage Elementary schools for Rochester kids in summer school. Graduate Education students from WSU-Rochester partnered with teachers from the Owatonna school district, giving students a firsthand look at how STEM fields of study can be applied to real-world tasks.


“Hands-on learning helps the students understand the process,” says Rachel Wood, a WSU-Rochester alum who will start her teaching career at Elton Hills Elementary School in the fall. “It reinforces the information when they actually get to do something instead of just hearing about a topic. The experience stays with kids much longer than a lecture.”

The camp, created in 2010, has grown threefold since its first year, with over 150 students participating this year (up from 47 in 2010). Kids are able to choose from different classes like “We Do Lego,” “Bubble-ology,” and a forensic class where students collect fingerprints, shoe impressions, and other forensic data, as well as analyze writing samples.

“When you have kids working with their hands, asking questions, and piquing their curiosity, it’s definitely more engaging and keeps them involved,” says Nicole Rhodes, a middle school teacher in Owatonna. “When the lightbulb goes off, when kids gets excited, that’s why I teach.”

The WSU-Rochester STEM camp is spearheaded by two associate professors of education at WSU-Rochester, Dr. Bryan Matera and Dr. Joel Traver. Both professors saw the importance of presenting the camp’s core ideas in a way that kids would remember.

“We support a learning-by-doing approach,” says Matera. “We’re trying to build a four-day camp here with great camp counselors that facilitate the work of students, but the students are really rolling up their sleeves and doing the work, and that’ll help them as they progress in their education and get into those higher grades.”

“We’re presenting these topics in a fun environment,” says Traver, “and the kids are responding. These are kids that come from diverse environments, so it’s important to make sure that we give them these concepts in a way that’s going to stick.”

With hundreds of kids smiling, laughing, and learning, it seems that the hands-on approach championed by WSU-Rochester was making its mark on the next generation of Rochester’s kids — and the experience did the same for Wood, one of Rochester’s newest teachers.

“I’m learning how to help students in a way that will best prepare them for success,” she says. “There’s so many activities [from this camp] that I can bring into my classroom this fall.”

Published in partnership with Winona State University-Rochester

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