A Fully Online Environmental STEM Camp - How does that work?

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Brief Abstract

A Fully Online Environmental STEM Camp?  Positivity toward science, in particular the perception of science as fun, has been linked to academic science achievement (Nasr & Soltani, 2011; Newell et al., 2015).  Interaction with science professionals and extracurricular activities has been especially effective in improving student attitudes, decreasing anxiety and maintaining interest (Hirschenhauser et al., 2019). Is an effective online STEM Camp possible?



I currently work at a statewide cyber school in Pennsylvania where I teach Environmental Science and mentor an online Environmental STEM Camp and the middle school EnvironThon team. I previously taught for eight years in brick-and-mortar schools in both urban and rural districts. I holds a MAT from Project Dragonfly of Miami University, a MA from University of Pittsburgh and I am currently pursuing a MS from Thomas Jefferson University.

Additional Authors

Mary Gozza-Cohen is an Assistant Director of Curriculum in the Institute of Emerging Health Professions in the College of Health Professions at Thomas Jefferson University with faculty appointments in the Department of Occupational Therapy in the Post Professional Occupational Therapy Doctoral Program and the College of Life Sciences. She has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University at Albany. Her prior experience includes a full-time faculty member in various schools of education, Director of Technology Integration and Online Teaching and Learning, occupational therapy practitioner and various administrative business experiences in the medical industry. Her expertise in teaching, educational psychology, evidence-based practices in all learning environments, and special interest in online teaching and learning is utilized in her current role at TJU. She provides 1:1 assistance and professional development and support on course re/design, pedagogy, formative assessment, technology integration, and collaborates on grant projects, serves on dissertation committees, conducts research, and presents at conferences.

Extended Abstract

Discomfort with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in adolescents may be instrumental in aversion to STEM field college majors and careers (Ozis et al., 2018). Engagement in extracurricular STEM improves overall attitude toward STEM, thus increasing the likelihood of students pursuing a STEM field as a career (Ozis et al., 2018). Environmental education and extracurricular science clubs have been shown as effective in fostering feelings of pro-environmentalism and empathy toward nature – one related area in STEM education.  Early experience with nature has been shown to lead to later pro-environmental behavior and a positive attitude toward conservation (Hinds & Sparks, 2008).  What we did not know was how online education would impact student satisfaction and performance in a fully online STEM Camp.

Although prior to COVID, this fully online K-12 cyber district had online and hybrid STEM Camps, it did not have an environmental-themed camp.  Learning about and becoming comfortable with environmental science traditionally requires hands on experiences and engagement with the environment. Creation of a fully online Environmental STEM Camp required a re-conceptualization of the usual methods of student engagement with: the content, environmental scientists and other related professionals, and fellow campers and teachers.

Creating a cohesive group is important for engagement and retention in any extracurricular activity and an online format presents unique challenges.  Adolescent participation in extracurricular activities can be a difficult ask, as this age group is often pulled between myriad obligations and options, such as academics, work, sports and social activities.  Our approach had to simultaneously engage students with the environment and with each other through remote interaction, requiring creativity and flexibility.

This action research study sought to discern, in part, the impact of holding our STEM Camp in a fully online format.  In this presentation, we will share our implementation of our Environmental STEM Camp in an online format including materials, tools, methods of engagement, and student and faculty perceptions of this experience.  We will share our trials and tribulations, lessons learned, and reflections on improvements for the next iteration of the STEM Camp.

Audience Participation:

Prior to viewing the presentation, we would like participants to think about the challenges they might face with a STEM Camp in a fully online format. We will then ask the participants to note how those challenges were addressed, if at all, as they view the presentation.  We are very interested in participants’ suggestions or advice for future iterations of the STEM Camp for us to consider and as such, would welcome an asynchronous discussion with the audience.

Audience Learning Outcomes:

  • conceptualize and compare STEM camp learning and engagement activities held in-person and fully online
  • understand student and faculty perceptions of participation in a fully online STEM Camp

  • share thoughts and strategies for teaching, engaging, and assessing students in a STEM Camp in an asynchronous online community discussion


Hinds, J. & Sparks, P. (2008). Engaging with the natural environment: The role of affective connection and identity. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 28, 109-120. DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2007.11.001.

Hirschenhauser, K., Frigerio, D., Leithinger, V., Schenkenfelder, I., & Neuböck-Hubinger, B. (2019). Primary pupils, science and a model bird species: Evidence for the efficacy of extracurricular science education. Plos One, 14(7), e0220635. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0220635

Nasr, A.R. & Soltani, A. (2011). Attitude towards biology and its effects on students’ achievement. International Journal of Biology, 3(4), 100-104. doi:10.5539/ijb.v3n4p100 

Newell, A.D., Tharp, B.Z., Moreno, N.P., Zientek, L.R. & Vogt, G.L. (2015). Students’ attitudes toward science as predictors of gains on student content knowledge: Benefits of an after-school program. School Science and Mathematics, 115(5), 216-225.

Ozis, F., Pektas, A.O.,  Akca, M. & DeVoss, D. (2018). How to shape attitudes toward STEM careers: The search for the most impactful extracurricular clubs. Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research, 8(1), 25-32. Doi: 10.7771/2157-9288.1192