Austin ISD, Scouts Partner for STEAM Camp

More than 350 students recently got the chance to spend a week exploring what STEAM can offer—designing toys, taking photos, programming robots and growing plants hydroponically.

Austin ISD partnered with the regional councils of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to offer four one-week TechLab STEAM camps at Anderson High School.

This was the first year Anderson hosted the STEAM—Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math—Camp and organizers, said it offers students something different.

"Every year, the opportunity for having 'real' technology is more ubiquitous and more affordable," said John Sperry, Anderson's toy design teacher and one of the camp's instructors.

One example—the youngest students at the camps, those entering second grade in the fall, used a program called Tinkercad to design 3-D models of toys or small mazes that were then printed by a 3-D printer. 

The camp's program director Jessica Snider developed the curriculum based on the idea of a technology lab located 500 meters below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.

"Students test the limits of where kids can live," she said, and learn how to take underwater photographs and grow food without soil.

Roughly 80 percent of this year's students were boys. She said organizers will work toward a more even distribution of boys and girls for 2016.

Sperry said that access extends to students throughout Austin.

"The goals of the camp are to make it cutting-edge, but also to make it open and give access to interested students all over the city," Sperry said. 

Scholarships for the one-week camps, usually $300, help offer more access to "way more technology, and to all the really great stuff."

STEAM Camp organizers will begin registering students for next year sometime in early 2016.