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Partners in STEM

Partners in Invention Education: How Pinellas County School District Reached More Children Through Summer Programming

In Florida’s Pinellas County School District, school officials had the challenge of increasing the number of students from underrepresented groups in their gifted and talented program. However, strict state guidelines represented one hurdle that needed to be overcome.

When Coral Marsh, supervisor of gifted and talented education at the Pinellas District, began considering solutions, she thought of the positive experiences the district has had with Camp Invention®. Over the past five years, the district has implemented this K-6 summer STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program from the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF).

Marsh and her colleague Natasha Karac, English learners services director, decided to come together and apply for separate grants that would serve their needs.

“We implemented Camp Invention as part of our summer camp collaboration between the Gifted and Talented (G&T) Office and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Office,” Marsh said in an interview with NIHF. “We wanted that career preparedness, the mindset piece, the connecting to literacy … I guess really the mindsets behind STEM, and I think that’s one reason we continue to work with Camp Invention in the summer programming, because it takes all of that and it is created for us.”

 

Joining Forces to Learn and Grow Together

By combining both G&T and ESOL students together in the same Camp Invention program, Karac and Marsh realized both groups would benefit. To support this new program, Karac received a Title III grant to support the ESOL participants, and Marsh was able to use funds from a G&T grant to aid the G&T students.

For ESOL children, the educators learned they could improve their confidence and literacy skills while also making measurable improvements on the G&T spectrum through program activities and direct collaboration with their gifted peers.

“The big piece for English learners is the level of language development. The academic level of language they are exposed to during the camp is extremely helpful in moving their language proficiency, but also that interaction with their gifted peers is what helps boost their self-confidence, their language speaking skills — where gifted peers also serve as the models of academic language from somebody who is their own age,” Karac said.

The supportive environment created at Camp Invention also allows the ESOL students to feel comfortable expressing themselves and collaborating freely with their peers.

“One of the pieces of feedback from one of the [ESOL] students that we received was that he finally felt he was in an environment where he felt safe to state his opinions and, in turn, to have his opinions or thoughts or critical and creative-thinking skills validated from the teacher,” Karac said.

For the G&T students that participate in the program, the open-ended nature of the activities at Camp Invention allow them to deeply explore STEM topics in ways that keep them interested and engaged.

“They are 100% engaged, and I think that that speaks to not only the quality of the curriculum but the hands-on interactivity with it. The multiple layers — (for instance in) the Duck Chuck module — they’re not just building a catapult. It’s all those extra layers that are built into it that keep them really engaged,” Marsh said.

Additionally, Marsh appreciates the fact that Camp Invention’s curriculum is comprehensive enough to serve the needs of all children who attend. Because the activities are differentiated, the experience is equally fun and beneficial for both the G&T and ESOL students.

“You don’t need a separate camp for gifted kids and talented kids and English learners and so on,” Marsh said. “It is a comprehensive enough program curriculum that naturally differentiates, and so it serves the needs of a lot of different kinds of kids in one package.”

 

Advice for Fellow Educators

Karac and Marsh were able to bring Camp Invention’s authentic invention education to their district because they applied and were approved for a grant that included camp as part of a larger summer learning strategy.

All NIHF education programs qualify for American Relief Plan (ARP), Title I-IV, 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC), Migrant Education, Early Learning Challenge and state and local district resources. Educators who are interested in using NIHF’s programming to both inspire students and help them catch up academically will have funding opportunities available to them.

Marsh’s advice to educators interested in bringing NIHF’s programming to their school is to look for all potential opportunities and resources at their disposal.

“We knew that we wanted the same quality that we had seen in the ESOL [Camp Invention] that has been worked in our district for a while,” Marsh said. “So I think you just have to be willing to go and look for outside recourses, and then you have to get creative.”

 

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