Designing and Evaluating Summer Camps

Evaluators have shown the strength of summer camp as an intervention. With such rich possibilities, more studies and evaluations could assess and reveal the impact of facilitators and presenters. They can show how different the outcomes are when scientists practicing scientists present and facilitate versus the staff who have disciplinary knowledge, but are not employed as scientists. 

We could learn more about how participants experiment and learn from failure in the context of summer camp. Camp also provided opportunities to flip the paradigm of disability. For example, the Center for Global Soundscapes introduced blind and visually impaired students to a field in which their heightened aural skills were a unique asset, and this approach could likely be applied to other topics for students of varying abilities.

We are also curious to learn more about how to sustain the positive outcomes of summer camp such as interest in certain content and career objectives. Camps have the capacity to deliver on “the characteristics of what Gee (2004) calls ‘affinity spaces:’ having a common endeavor or interest, enabling people of various skill levels to participate in the same activities, adapting the core organization through interaction, encouraging the development and sharing of specialized knowledge, honoring tacit knowledge, and allowing many different forms of participation and status in the space

Like Fields (2008), we hope to learn more about the sweet spot, the designs and models that bring students into affinity spaces, into community with those with similar interests, and give them autonomy to pursue scientific questions that matter to them. Fields reminded us that Bell et al. (2003) found that ‘doing science’ was not enough for high school aged youth in apprenticeships with professional scientists to learn several of the more important aspects about the nature of science. Involvement in an affinity space based on shared interests in science and engagement in research may lead to greater gains in understanding the nature of science.

With respect to projective identity formation facilitated by affinity spaces, Gee argues that whether or not youth pursue a projective identity in science, it is important that they have imagined the capability within themselves to do something such as become a research astronomer, attend undergraduate and graduate school, or even travel to Mars. Where better to start such journeys than at summer camp, particularly one staffed by adults and young adults with similar interests, backgrounds, dedicated to fostering interest and STEM career exploration.