What would you do without air conditioning or climate control in the Louisiana heat?
This question was just one of the many posed to students participating in this year’s Baton Rouge Energy Venture Camp. This is the sixth year that area students have had the opportunity to participate in this 40-hour STEM camp. Upper School science teacher Jeannette Thompson, who is one of the camp leads, says the experience is intense and a lot of fun. “I love teaching camps,” she says. Thompson says a camp is the ideal classroom because there is no pressure to make a certain grade. Students can simply enjoy learning and exploring their curiosity regarding the concepts.
The Baton Rouge Energy Venture Camp is a hands-on learning experience for high school students throughout the capital region. For the first time, campers kicked off the experience on Episcopal’s campus where they reviewed the basic parameters of science. Over the course of the week, students participated in activities at Baton Rouge Community College and LSU. According to the camp description, the camp provides students the opportunity “to explore the entire process of energy development from how oil and natural gas are formed to the ways various types of energy are used.” Students build a generator, a car, a windmill and a solar house – all in one week! The camp description also says students learn about the concepts of photosynthesis, distillation, catalysts, pressure, temperature, density, fracking, combustion and more. In a sweet and chilly highlight, students even went to the LSU Dairy Store to learn more about air conditioning and refrigeration.
Thompson says while there are a lot of topics covered in just a short period of time, students process the information well. She says the camp instructors design the experience so that it is meaningful and relates to real life. “We don’t lecture for more than twenty minutes at a time,” says Thompson. “They need to be doing something because we only have one week.” As a result of the intense pace and the hands-on learning experiences, students walk away from the camp with a deeper understanding of the lessons they learn in a more traditional school classroom setting. The camp helps students “make connections to learning theories,” says Thompson. As students are making those connections they are enjoying the experience. “I love the camp because I get to meet people that are also interested in science and it is high paced and fun,” says Episcopal sophomore Andrea Thompson.
To ensure the campers are making connections, the camp ends each year with students presenting information on one concept they’ve learned. Thompson says this is a great way for students to showcase their new knowledge and for instructors to know for sure that students have truly gained something from the experience. Thompson says former campers often report back that what they learned at camp helped them tremendously once they returned to school or even once they have moved on to college.
“We hope to get them to like science and to understand science,” says Thompson. For this former chemical engineer, it is very rewarding to see the excitement on the faces of the campers and students when they fully grasp a concept or accomplish their goal and realize it is possible and even easy. With the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting nearly 8.6 million STEM jobs in 2015 and continued career growth expected, it is important to spark an interest in these fields early. Thompson and her fellow Baton Rouge Energy Venture Camp organizers are certainly doing their part to inspire young people to enter the field.