Kids soar with Nauset Summer Science Institute

Complex STEM projects challenge kids for three weeks
Building female leaders in STEM. Image from Summer 2015 Review video/NMS.

“What happens if you wait for the teacher to solve your problem?  You don’t get your work done!”  These were the first words heard when visiting the Summer Science Institute (SSI) at Nauset Regional Middle School last month.

The three-week program focuses on STEM challenges, project design/completion and much more.  Led by a teaching team headed by NRMS teacher Brandy Jackson, teams of middle school students work together on many different projects. Mrs. Jackson developed the curriculum for SSI.

Nauset Middle School Principal Dr. Maxine Minkoff describe the program thus: “The summer Institute is providing our students with a wonderful opportunity to think creatively, problem solve and work collaboratively at projects they enjoy.  The combination of events that Mrs. Jackson and her team put together – from kayaking, to making frittatas, to building and testing underwater ROV’s to making air conditioners – was exciting, interesting and diverse enough to capture the interest of just about all the 50 students who attended.”

Challenges galore

“Summer Science” is a fast-paced, high energy program.  Students are working – quietly – at library tables, work stations, computers, in darkened corridors and outside at the under-water test tank.  One group might be working on sourcing local-grown foods (to compare with “imported”), others are building underwater ROVs and still more are testing their creations.

One team tried to solve a light problem with their ROV.  Realizing they needed to provide more light to the on-board camera, they explore how to “steal” two wires from the CAT5 network cable they used as a tether.  Once they soldered up the connections and tied in the battery, they still had to test the camera/light combination and also make sure the whole device was water-tight.

We asked the team if they had ever done anything like this before.  They said they learned everything they were doing today in the Summer Science Institute.

The students created a video overview of the program:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FICHMqx4sw0

Excites natural curiosity

In this second year of SSI, students built their ROVs (for exploring Orleans’ ponds) with off-the-shelf parts that they selected at Mid-Cape Home Centers and Orleans True Value Hardware.  This gave the kids more choice in the design of their devices and allowed them to problem solve on the fly.  Last year’s program used kit-built ROVs so there was less “engineering” involved. 

Summer Science Institute lead teacher Brandy Jackson told us, “Children crave hands on activities, so we designed a summer program that brings conservation, entrepreneurship and problem solving together in a way that excites their natural curiosity.”

As part of the study of the Cape’s water supply, students visited farm markets to select fresh local produce and other items.  Later they purchased similar, non-local items “off the shelf” at local grocery stores.  The students cooked up both sets of food to differentiate flavor and other properties of the delicacies. 

Girls in STEM

This year the SSI succeeded in bringing more girls into the program – 11 girls out of 50 participants.  Nationally, women seem to be under-represented in STEM-related jobs.  Dr. Minkoff and Mrs. Jackson are working hard to change that by offering incentives and scholarships to get more girls into the Summer Science Institute.

Mrs. Jackson remarked, “The incentive programs that brought in more girls this year, in my opinion, are the main reason for this year’s success.  The program has a balance that was definitely missing last year.  The teens worked well together both years, but this year there was a healthy competition that pushed them even more.”

Indeed, the atmosphere in the SSI classroom was a model of cooperative learning.  It was easy to see the various groups helping each other and was quite evident that there were girls leading many of the teams. 

So significant was the female leadership component that the students made a video on the topic: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpC8FWaOrS0

Other student videos

Participants created several other videos to chronicle their progress:

Snapshot of SSI program:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HBNKQd9sHk

Underwater Challenge:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTUFr4ae238

Local Food and Carbon Miles:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHIBuOpJM0E

Looking ahead

Many of this summer’s programs will continue into the school year, with after school programs focusing on STEM projects.  They are already deep in planning for next year’s program.                                              

The Summer Science Institute received over $15,000 in grants, scholarships and in-kind donations from many local groups, including the Orleans Pond Coalition, the Masonic Angel Foundation, Mid-Cape Home Centers and Orleans True Value Hardware. 

Dr. Minkoff reports, “We look forward to continuing the Institute into the school year and we’re already excited about what can happen next summer.”

Mrs. Jackson is proud of her students.  “One of our main goals was to develop independent learners.  With 30 students per session and only 5 staff working on project based learning, if kids wait for adult help they won't finish their projects.   By the end of the camp 4 students had emerged as technology leaders and every person had completed 2 or more projects.   Next year we are planning to bring those four back as interns.”

Nauset is extending the SSI into an afterschool program in the MakerSpace at the school library.  The school has launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $7,500 to fund the program.  


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