Summer is a very exciting and busy time here in the Auburn University College of Education. For many years our faculty members have hosted several well-known, highly-successful summer camp and enrichment activities. And now a new one has been added: Elementary Summer Camp.
“This was our first year of having a summer enrichment program for rising third, fourth, and fifth graders,” said Dr. Megan Burton, program coordinator for the Elementary Education program in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching. “We feel like it went very well and hope to do it again next year. Our students came from local schools. Critical state standards for subjects such as math, language and literacy, social studies, and science were used to develop lessons around the theme of ‘A+ Acceleration: All Around Alabama.” Students explored topics such as weather, civil rights, robotics, Newton’s Law, computation, measurement, fractions, space, and agriculture.
Activities such as launching rockets, creating solar powered cars, scripting and filming a weather report, games, and using mathematics to solve an “escape the classroom” and scavenger hunt challenge were all ways students were engaged in the content. For a series on space travel, aerospace engineer Mark Branch and earth science specialist Trena Ferrell Branch, Ph.D, had a skype session with the students from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. In the afternoon math sessions, the students built a theme park that were based on area and perimeter equations.
“These activities allowed the students to sharpen their academic skills in engaging ways, but also helped build a strong classroom community for the two-week, all-day camp sessions,” Burton explained. “Feedback from parents and students was extremely positive.”
Involvement of pre-service teachers
“Our camp director, Stacie Finley, is an experienced teacher and current doctoral student. She worked closely with the Elementary Education faculty, including Dr. Victoria Cardullo, Dr. Octavia Tripp, and me,” Burton said. “Stacie did a great job not only directing the camp, but also coordinating the 24 pre-service Elementary Education majors who did the actual teaching every day. Last semester was their first semester in our professional program. During the first semester, pre-service teachers learned about the standards, explored the importance of higher-order thinking activities, presented on classroom management strategies, and created integrated lesson plans tied to assessments.”
Before summer camp began, pre-service teachers had intense focused classes on the pedagogy required to effectively teach the content areas of language and literacy, mathematics, and science. Pre-service teachers explored curriculum, standards, materials, and various resources to gain understanding of essential elements in these areas. They also viewed and discussed videos of model classroom examples.
Pre-service teachers were grouped together and collaborated in planning daily activities. They worked to connect the content to student needs, student interests, and state standards in a meaningful way. They also created inviting, interactive themed classrooms. The pre-service teachers rotated in alternating mornings and afternoons between the actual classroom teaching and “debriefing” methods classes with their professors. In addition, when they were not working directly with the children, the pre-service teachers were able to observe their peers teaching. This is a major area of emphasis in the Elementary Education program. These observations provided meaningful feedback, opportunities for self-reflection, and encouraged professional conversations after each lesson.
“In developing their classroom management skills, our pre-service teachers saw that the students need to feel invited into taking academic risks in a safe, nurturing classroom community,” Burton said. “Hands-on activities, higher-order thinking, and movement were a big part of everything they did. It was their first real experience teaching a live classroom, so they were pretty amazed to see how motivated, capable, supportive, creative, and fun their students were. “
It’s hard to say what the children enjoyed most, but one highlight came late in the camp session when Aubie surprised the children. When everyone’s favorite tiger dropped by, the students were completing their robot-building project. They all started shouting “Robot!” so Aubie responded in his typically-delightful way – he danced the Robot and got all the kids to join in.
“I’d say this was a win-win for our students and for the children from the Lee County area,” Burton concluded. “We appreciate the great structure provided by the Auburn University Youth Program, which sponsored the camp, and the families of the students who were our first campers. I really hope we’re able to make this another great Auburn tradition.”
For more information or photos of the camp, you may visit the Auburn Youth Program Facebook page. Next summer the Elementary Ed faculty plans to focus on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) integrated through language and literacy skills. For information about next summer’s Elementary STEAM Camp, please contact Dr. Megan Burton, firstname.lastname@example.org.