Partners in Invention Education: How Lorain City Schools Provides Accessible STEM Experiences
Throughout the 2020-21 school year, educators and district administrators from Lorain City Schools faced challenges shared by many large school districts across the country. To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the district implemented distance learning for more than 6,000 students across 14 schools. In January 2021, the district transitioned to in-person learning two days a week.
However, because many of the district’s students lack the resources to ensure quality remote learning experiences, many students regressed in key subjects, such as reading, and also lost their excitement to learn.
“We do have a very high rate of students moving at my school,” said Kim Feakins, a English-Language Learner (ELL) and Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language (TESOL) teacher for Lorain City Schools, in an interview with the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF). Feakins added that many students are impoverished, “so they don't come to school ready to learn. They don't have the tools necessary, nor do they have the materials to help them.”
Upon their return and heading into summer, school officials knew they needed to find enrichment programs that provided an effective solution that was both accessible and engaging. Additionally, school officials were looking for ways to help their students get excited about learning again, by tapping into their natural curiosity. “The needs of our population, especially after a year and a half of COVID, are great,” said Mayra Couglin-Ewers, assistant principal at Frank Jacinto Elementary. “It’s been a tough year having to learn technology [and] having to teach parents technology. That was a major challenge.”
Finding a Fun and Accessible STEM Program for All Learning Styles
After assessing what students needed most, the Lorain City Schools decided to implement Camp Invention®, NIHF’s K-6 summer program. Educators were immediately impressed with the program’s easy-to-follow curriculum and instructions, as well as its open-ended approach to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning.
For Miriam Engle, a fifth-grade teacher at Lorain City Schools, one of the program’s greatest strengths is its ability to get students excited for learning and primed for a successful school year.
“Camp Invention makes it so easy to follow, and the most important thing is that it has the students’ interests,” Engle said in an interview with NIHF. “You don’t have behavior issues … there’s no time to be bored with Camp Invention. It is really where fun meets learning, and students are really sponging all of that information and they go home and they’re telling everyone what they did.”
Central to NIHF’s style of STEM education, which has been iterated and developed for over 30 years, is its focus on giving students agency over how they want to solve the real-world challenges presented in each activity.
Barb Bowen, executive director of student services and academic technology for the Lorain City Schools, agrees and appreciates how Camp Invention gives students a sense of control.
“A lot of people will say the teacher can either be the sage on the stage or the guide on the side,” Bowen said in an interview with NIHF. “The guide on the side allows the kids to actually own their own learning — and it’s a really awesome thing when you see it in action. This program allows for the teacher to be the guide and the kids to be in control.”
Because of the joy and excitement Camp Invention gave to her students this past summer, Engle believes that districts facing similar challenges would benefit immensely.
“I always say, if there’s a district that doesn’t have Camp Invention, they need it,” Engle said. “Whether it’s funded or not, there is something for everyone.”
Bringing Excitement Back to Learning
For Engle, what stands out most is how the hands-on activities at Camp Invention bring a sense of joy and excitement back to learning. Students did not want this summer’s program to end.
“[Camp Invention] is so fun that by the end of the week, students don’t want to leave,” Engle said. Throughout the year, she has parents texting, emailing and even reaching out to her via social media to ask about the dates and location for next year’s program.
Most important, however, are the lasting benefits students experience when they attend Camp Invention. These include a boost in confidence and a newfound belief in their ability to express themselves creatively.
Feakins has witnessed the effect of NIHF’s authentic approach to invention education firsthand.
“Let me tell you a story about one of our little campers from Camp Invention,” Feakins said. “Before camp she didn’t speak, and she didn’t speak to any of her teachers. And through this camp, she’s felt comfortable and encouraged enough to speak. So it is actually getting her to come out of her shell, and she feels so much more encouraged and she just feels good about talking and just creating.”
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