The STEM camp is so exciting and is going really well. Jocene Wade-Harmon, the VP of Human Resources at Belco, deserves credit for her vision and persistence in pulling this project together. Anastasia Smith is the director of the camp and she was such a perfect choice. Her philosophy toward teaching is that of giving kids space to be inquisitive and creative – creating experiences that will cause them to discuss, ask questions, and invent. She has done just that with some great lessons, field trips, and challenges during this STEM camp focused on energy. Diane McCallum has managed the paperwork, logistics, money, transportation, and food just beautifully.
The kids have accomplished a great deal this week. They have built robots using NXT Mindstorms and gone through a series of tutorials learning how to program them. Some kids really went above and beyond, and challenged themselves to do some great stuff just by asking themselves if they could. Can I make the robot navigate around obstacles? Can I make it chomp like a Pac-Man? Can I give my wheels more power or more speed? What happens if I change the radius of the tires or move the light sensor to another location? They followed these tangents happily and sometimes created fantastic results.
The kids were introduced to the Green City challenge, in which the robots have to complete missions related to energy to gather energy bricks. The challenges include spinning a wind turbine, fixing a dam, sorting the trash, replacing an old smokestack, and more. Some kids have a couple of challenges complete and they are so excited. They are learning about programming, algorithmic thinking, making trade-offs as far as speed/accuracy/point values, teamwork and organization.
Some of the students had programmed robots before, but there was a wide range of background knowledge and experience. Several kids did not even have e-mail addresses. They enjoyed learning the new technology, and they grew in their ability to program very quickly.
Another thread in the camp has been energy. Bermuda’s energy is produced by diesel engines mostly, with a little biomass from their trash incinerator and a small amount of solar on private homes. All of the diesel fuel is imported and is very expensive. The island is very aware of the energy challenges due to their location and geography… but it also gives them opportunities. The kids have discussed, sorted, and analyzed various sources and forms of energy. They took home a spreadsheet to analyze their energy use at home. Anastasia, Jocene, and Diane planned field trip experiences for them. The kids are very articulate about their geography and the challenges it poses. Bermuda sits on an extinct volcano, far from the mid-Atlantic ridge where it formed. The seamount is small, and beyond it, the ocean floor drops off precipitously. The kids realize this makes offshore sources of power very challenging… yet the small area of Bermuda makes onshore power sources difficult too, and some are impossible (such as geothermal and hydroelectric).
A third thread in the camp was on sharing and communicating what they learned, and so we worked on some web design using HTML at first, and then Google Sites. The students are working on a web site that explains to their parents, to Belco, and to the community what Bermuda’s energy future looks like.
Tomorrow is the students’ STEM show, in which they’ll share what they learned by presenting to the attendees of the show, and then we’ll have some presentations and awards by the teachers and staff. The Minister of Education will be in attendance, along with the executive team at Belco and perhaps the Minister of the Environment.
It’s been a wonderful week, and I definitely hope the momentum continues. Belco is considering hosting a STEM club for students ongoing if volunteers can be found to run it. Anastasia and I will appeal to parents tomorrow to consider creating FIRST Lego League teams for their kids, with mentoring and support from us in Colorado and space and equipment offered by Belco. I think we’ll get some parents that want to take us up on it, and it would be a great start.
Ultimately, there are two separate missions I’d like to see Bermuda tackle. One is the continual development of their gifted and talented students, to push them to go into STEM careers and stay in Bermuda to help with the little territory’s challenges. The other is an equity issue. The divide between the public and private schools, between the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy, is an unhealthy divide. The kids in public schools with fewer resources deserve a great education that helps them develop their creativity and problem-solving too. Both are workable with focus and vision from those involved – and it’s OK if it begins here!