UCSD, Country Day partner for innovative summer tech program


Summer STE[+a]M


Electronics, engineering and robotics program for students grades 6-8


9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, July 9-27


La Jolla Country Day, 9480 Genesee Ave.


$2,500 for two courses


(858) 453-3440,


By Pat Sherman

Middle school students will build remote-controlled cars, make illuminated clothing and learn the basics of video game programming during a summer science and engineering program offered at La Jolla Country Day School, in connection with UC San Diego Extension.

The new three-week program, titled Summer STE[+a]M, uses fun and engaging projects that incorporate science, technology, engineering, arts and math to pique students’ interest in these competitive fields before heading off to high school.

Four courses, offered Monday through Friday July 9-27, were designed by Fab Lab San Diego, a collaboration between Massachusetts Institute of Technology and San Diego-based nonprofit Heads on Fire.

Though students’ are immersed in technology on a daily basis, from digital music players to touchscreen tablets, most don’t comprehend the technology behind them, said Katie Rast, Fab Lab’s program director.

“If a student can understand how all those devices work, they’ll have a really big advantage in college and career pathways,” she said. “It’s becoming more and more competitive to get into college. We have to prepare students as early as possible, especially in science, technology and math.”

Summer STE[+a]M courses include “Wearable Electronics,” “Do-It-Yourself Robotics,” “Creative Computing: Re-engineering the Wii,” and “Product Design,” in which students learn to make their own LED lamps and other illuminated objects.

One student enrolled in Fab Lab’s Wearable Electronics course made a sweatshirt with flashing LED turn signals on the back. A sensor in the cuffs allowed the student to engage the signal when turning right or left on his bicycle or skateboard.

Another student created a San Diego Chargers T-shirt with an LED lightning bolt. Each time he touched a switch on the shirt, the bolt would light and the sound of cracking thunder was emitted from a speaker embedded in the shirt.

First, the students first had to learn how to program a microcontroller.

“I live for the experience of seeing the lights turn on in kids’ eyes when they’re working with design, engineering or creating things,” Rast said.

“We’ll tackle some pretty hefty topics, but rather than having the students run away in fear or feel overwhelmed by these somewhat complicated topics, they’re seeing it happen before their eyes, so it’s much more tangible.”

The camp, which is open to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students from throughout San Diego County, will include field trips to use UCSD’s laboratories and supercomputer facilities.

In some instances, students will be able to see their digital files come to life with the use of large-scale 3D printers.

Edward Abeyta, director of UC San Diego’s K-16 programs, said the key to engaging tomorrow’s technology professionals is to help them “learn to be creators and not just consumers,” and to make the process fun before they’re funneled into the “fast and furious” testing sequence of high school.

“Middle school is a place to inspire,” Abeyta said. “We need as a nation to inspire students much earlier and to create a culture of lifelong learning.”

In another of the accredited, pre-college courses, students will learn the basics of programming interactive graphics used in video games.

Once they understand the syntax and how the programming language works, they’ll program objects on a screen to respond to the movement of a Wii controller (which they’ll first disassemble and rebuild to learn how it works).

Susan Domanico, chair of Country Day’s science department, will oversee the program.

Domanico said Summer STE[+a]M provides science-minded students an alternative to the usual sports and adventure camps offered during summer, as well as two-hour blocks to work on more complex projects that are not easily tackled during standard 50-minute science classes.

“We’re going to give kids who are interested in science a longer period to explore,” Domanico said. “This is going to be a notch above your average, everyday science class.”