How STEAM Camps Can Combat Summer Brain Drain

STEAM Summer Camps edWebinar recording link


Summer brain drain or the summer slide occurs when students, especially those from low-income families, lose some of the academic skills and knowledge learned during the previous school year. According to Erin Mulcahy, Senior Product Strategy Lead of Education at littleBits, during an edWebinar hosted by summer brain drain has a significant impact on elementary-aged students as the two-thirds of the achievement gap between lower and higher income 9th graders can be explained by summer learning loss. These early summer learning losses also have later life consequences, including whether students drop out of high school and attend college.

“Who wouldn’t want that kid that is a changemaker?” defines the phenomenon of STEAM summer camps. “As our world becomes increasingly more high tech, the evolution of summer camps has moved from teaching survival skills to teaching and bringing awareness to the 21st-century skills that kids will need to be successful in school and the future of work.” This “new” summer camp format is a free or affordable environment where students work together, ideas flow, excitement is contagious, and curiosity is peaked.

Benefits of STEAM Summer Camp

Summer camps that focus on STEAM are incredibly effective because students have the opportunity to take a deep dive into new skills and flex their technology literacy. This style of summer camp provides both mental and physical stimulation as technology gets added into things that kids already love to do. It is not about spending the summer in front of a computer screen. It is about providing students with a balance of mental and physical stimulation and getting them to move and be outside. These camps are also designed to foster those soft skills that are important in the future of work. Mulcahy points out that “technical skills and knowledge will get you into an interview for that dream job, but it is the people skills, work ethic, communication skills, emotional intelligence and personal attributes that help you be successful in your career.”

STEAM Summer Camps edWebinar image


Another benefit of the STEAM summer camp is that it creates a safe space where students can take risks without the pressure of grades and social inclusion. By supporting students’ unique interests, they learn independence, empowerment, and teamwork. Summer camps are an opportunity for students to have agency and choice by asking them questions such as: “What do you want to learn about that you didn’t get to during the school year?” or, “You loved technology class so much, do you want to try robotics or coding?” Through the facilitation of learning through play, students dive deeper into topics of interest that lead to creative confidence that spills over into the upcoming school year.

Camp Programming Tips and Tricks

Summer brain drain is also a reality for teachers, so it is essential to train teachers to be invention advisors. These advisors will not be the sages on the stage but focus on growth mindset and creative competencies that support and guide students. This model of camp facilitators ensures that STEAM camp attendees have creative experiences where they express themselves and focus on areas of interest. It is also advantageous to organize each camp day with a laid-out schedule, assigned roles for time and record keepers, and accessible materials and visual aids. By minimizing these time-sucking tasks, students gain valuable quality creativity time. Failure is the number one fear of students when it comes to letting their creative juices flow, so it is vital to encourage students by consistently telling them that it is okay to make mistakes and embrace all ideas as good ideas. This creates an environment where students don’t judge or make fun of ideas but build off of each other’s innovations. Lastly, embrace the chaos of loud and messy, have fun as things feel like they are spiraling out of control and market your STEAM summer camp by spreading the word using social media to inspire teachers all over the world.

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by littleBits Education.

Watch the Recording

This article was modified and published by EdScoop.

About the Presenter

Erin Mulcahy is a scientist by training, having received her bachelor’s degree in animal science and a master’s in conservation biology. She also has a background in education and international development. Erin loves working with littleBits’ global network of educators to share their passion for learning and creativity. 

Join the Community

STEM Learning: Full STEAM Ahead is a free professional learning community on that provides educators, curriculum leaders, and industry members with a place to collaborate on bringing more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into the classroom.

littleBits makes technology kits that are fun, easy-to-use, and infinitely creative. The kits are composed of electronic building blocks that are color-coded, magnetic, and make complex technology simple and fun. Together they’re interchangeable in millions of different ways to empower kids to invent anything – from a sibling alarm, to a wireless robot, to a digital instrument.

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