CMSE Summer Camps Help Teachers and Students Expand Math and Science Horizons

Eighteen science and math teachers from across the Mid-South participated in an ASM Materials Camp for Teachers program, a weeklong, hands-on workshop designed to help instructors introduce applied engineering techniques to their classes, this summer at the University of Mississippi.

OXFORD, Miss. – Students in Analice Sowell’s high school chemistry classes soon will be learning how engineers manipulate the chemical and physical characteristics of natural materials to make them lighter, stronger, more heat-resistant and perfect for a host of everyday applications, everything from bone replacements to the heat shield for NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars.

Sowell, a teacher at Memphis University School, is developing a new course in materials science to help show students the possibilities of pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, fields.

“Materials science will open up a whole new area of science that is not truly being explored at the high school level,” Sowell said. “It gives the students who want to be engineers one day the opportunity to look at that field in high school while supplementing their chemistry and physics courses.”

Sowell learned how to develop her curriculum this summer at an ASM Materials Camp for Teachers hosted by the University of Mississippi’s Center for Mathematics and Science Education. The weeklong camp and other programs, such as MathCamp for middle school students, are crucial to the center’s efforts to inspire and prepare teachers and their students for the demands of STEM education.Preparing students for college STEM programs is critical to help Mississippi fill the projected need for 33,000 additional college-educated STEM workers by 2018, including 15,000 new engineers.

The national ASM Materials Camp program started in 2002, but this summer was the first time Ole Miss has hosted one of the teacher camps. Eighteen science and math teachers from across the Mid-South participated in a weeklong, hands-on workshop designed to help both seasoned and new instructors introduce applied engineering techniques to their classes.

The program is funded by a grant from the Office of Naval Research in conjunction with the ASM Materials Education Foundation. For the Ole Miss camp, the university’s Division of Outreach and Continuing Education and the Mississippi Space Grant Consortium helped in the recruiting efforts by providing housing and travel stipends.

ASM surveys indicate that teachers who participate in the Materials Camp for Teachers are successful in incorporating new STEM content into existing courses, using the labs, demonstrations and hands-on learning activities with their students – and they see positive results. More than 100 teachers report that they are teaching stand-alone materials science courses.

The workshops provide plenty of practical information, Sowell said.

“It was so easy to integrate this into my current course or to develop a whole new course on materials science,” she said. “This program was more than I could have ever hoped for. It was well worth my while and I would love to sign up again.”

CMSE officials hope to offer this camp again for at least two more summers. Teachers in north Mississippi and surrounding areas who want to sign up for future camps should contact Susan Peterson, outreach coordinator for CMSE, at 662-915-6621 or

The CMSE’s annual MathCamp summer program is designed for students entering fifth- through eighth grades. The four-day, overnight camp concentrates on geometry and measurement concepts aligned with Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, and also incorporates technology geared toward middle school mathematics.

Kari Mullins of Oxford said she saw an immediate improvement in both math and maturity for her 11-year-old son, Hayden, through his participation in this summer’s MathCamp program.

“He was not looking forward to it in the beginning,” Mullins said. “Math is one of his weak subjects. But Hayden was very excited about staying in the dorms and the freedom. As the week progressed, he had a good time, and they made learning fun for him.”

One of Hayden’s teachers recommended him for the camp. Teachers can recommend up to two students who meet the camp’s eligibility criteria and would most likely benefit from the experience.

In its sixth year, the program includes four one-week sessions for new participants and two alumni camps for returning participants. The goals of the MathCamp are to inspire students to pursue math courses and to improve their performance in them.

The camp improved Hayden’s overall attitude toward learning, Mullins said.

“School is a totally different environment for him,” she said. “This program was more hands-on and had a lot of group participation. He responds better in that environment. He didn’t feel like it was a lot a pressure to perform.

“For a child that thinks math is intimidating, the program gives them a different perspective. We will definitely do it again next year.”

Programs such as the ASM Materials Camp for Teachers and MathCamp benefit not only K-12 students and teachers, but also CMSE staff and the entire community, said Alice Steimle, CMSE associate director.

“It is our hope at the CMSE that our camp programs will improve mathematics and science education by supporting current teachers and will promote interest by inspiring students to consider STEM fields,” Steimle said.

The CMSE aims to improve mathematics and science education in Mississippi by fostering interaction between academic and K-12 education communities, supporting the implementation of research-based methods in the classroom and promoting interest in STEM fields.

For more information about programs in the CMSE, go to