Fall break can often be about family or school trips, recharging or taking some time off. For a couple dozen Mililani High School students, the week off is time to invest in working on a shared passion for robotics and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) with elementary school students grades 3 to 5.
Three years ago, Mililani High School Advanced Placement physics teacher Tyson Kikugawa launched the weeklong camp. The first year more than 20 students participated in the program. That grew to 50 students last fall and 75 this year.
Kikugawa’s original goal was to raise money for the school’s robotics team, but that changed quickly.
“The motivation now for me personally is to get more kids exposed to STEM and robotics,” Kikugawa said. “It’s pretty cool to see how far the elementary school students get in a week.”
Kikugawa, a Mililani High alum, did not start off as a teacher. The former engineer decided to take a detour into teaching and ended up staying in education. Now he teaches AP physics and is the robotics instructor and Science Olympiad advisor.
He realized there was an opportunity for his some of his students to gain valuable skills by teaching the younger students. Kikugawa has been able to attract about 30 students from the Robotics Team, Science Club and National Honor Society.
“For me, teaching is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Kikugawa said. “This camp gives them leadership skills since they work together as a team, classroom management skills in working with the younger kids and the chance to showcase their interest and passion in STEM and robotics.”
Mililani High School student coordinator Orion Sun echoes that sentiment. He spent the first quarter of 2015 organizing enrollment for the classes and helping assign high school student instructors to either Lego robotics or STEM classes focusing on space exploration with rockets and rovers.
“I think I learn a lot about working with others in leading as well as the engineering aspect,” Sun said. “The (first-time elementary students) learn quite a bit and then they just start to get more interested in the topic as it goes on. There are a lot of them that are bored in the first few days but as they do more they think it’s really interesting.”
The program has attracted a lot of attention from area elementary school parents. The camp is only able to accommodate about half of the applicants who are rushing to sign up and pay the $100 for the week of enrichment.
Kikugawa and his students say the week of instruction is rewarding and well worth the hard work.
“After the first day, our kids were talking about how tired they were from running the class,” the robotics advisor said. “It is pushing them out of their comfort zone and I hope it will fuel them to look at providing outreach in the future, whether they become engineers or scientists.”
“I feel it is a good way that we are spreading the idea of STEM early so that when they grow up the elementary students will consider a career in one of the areas,” Sun said.
If the faces of the elementary school students are any indication of the program’s success, the course is doing very well. When they are working on their projects.
Students are engaged and share smiles as well as expressions of focused concentration.
Parents were invited to see what their children accomplished during the STEM camp on the last day with a demonstration of the rocket launching and robotics programming. Some parents said how happy they are to have this option to provide enrichment to their children and give them an exposure to the types of STEM programs that are available.
Although the camp has only been offered during fall break and one summer so far, Kikugawa says he hopes to be able to add more classes so that his team of students can expand the camp and also offer it at different times of the year.