Summertime Science

Camp isn’t just for swimming, hiking and crafts anymore. This summer, youths around the Merrimack Valley can learn how to write code, program a robot, design a model solar home, enhance their STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills, or even try their hand at designing a “smart” shirt or a “smart” car.


Walking into the Active Science room at the Andover/North Andover branch of the Merrimack Valley YMCA, you can instantly see why kids love it. The colorful room features fun decals, “smart” walls and a turf floor.

The decor is just one way that the Active Science program ensures that kids learn and have fun without realizing they’re completing a STEM lesson.

Active Science is a nationwide program designed by professor Kyle McInnis at Merrimack College to promote physical fitness and STEM skills for kids. Several Merrimack Valley YMCA branches, including the Andover/North Andover location, serve as national testing centers for the project.

During Active Science sessions, kids spend about 45 minutes engaging in physical activity while wearing devices that monitor their steps and the distance they travel. Then they take their data and, using the Active Science app and a Kindle Fire tablet, apply it to a STEM lesson. The app offers kids an incentive to be active by turning the experience into a bit of a game, letting them earn points, unlock achievements and compete against others.

Active Science is open to kids in kindergarten through fifth grade and is among the summer camps offered by the YMCA.

Breanne Dowdie (center top) is the active education coordinator for the Merrimack Valley YMCA. Here, she leads a group of young learners in an Active Science session. L-r: Olivia Horvath, Savannah Tran, Vivienne Tran, Aiden Tran, Max Su and Josiah Mercedat. Photos by Kevin Harkins.


For the third year, the Francis College of Engineering at UMass Lowell is hosting two weeklong summer camps for high school students in July.

These overnight sessions aim to introduce students to engineering through hands-on projects, speakers and field trips. Students entering the 10th, 11th or 12th grade in the fall are eligible.

The first session, “Engineering for a Connected World,” will teach participants about the role engineering plays in designing and building “smart” technology.

Potential projects include designing a “smart” shirt that monitors health/activity, designing a system to track ridership on buses in order to improve service, or building a system that allows cars to “talk” with one another.

The second session, “Engineering for Sustainability,” is for females only. Possible projects for the session include building an inexpensive water purification system, developing and building a wind turbine to generate electricity, or building a model solar home.

The College of Engineering created the program to expose students to engineering at a younger age and to offer a glimpse into a field they may not have considered, says Hunter Mack, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UML and a faculty mentor for the camp.

Last year’s two sessions drew about 50 participants, he says. While most hail from New England, some of the students have traveled from states such as Iowa and Maryland.

At the start of each session, faculty members pitch a project to the students, and they choose the group they want to work with. At the end of camp, projects are presented to friends and family members. Mack says 80 percent of previous summer camp students have indicated that they would want to major in engineering in college.

Josiah Mercedat participates in Active Science. Although a nationwide program, it was pioneered by Kyle McInnis, an associate dean and professor of health sciences at Merrimack College. Photos by Kevin Harkins.


During the summer STEM program at Code & Circuit in Amesbury, participants delve into computer science, engineering and technology topics through hands-on learning.

Participants will be introduced to the Scratch programming language, robotics technology, 3-D printing and more during the four-day sessions. Sessions are divided into age groups, and the camp is open to students in all grade levels.

Code & Circuit owner Ken Aspeslagh began the summer camp in 2014 as an extension of the after-school classes that are offered. “It’s been very popular,” he says. Students are excited to practice with the Lego Mindstorms EV3 robotics construction set, which allows them to build a robot and then program it to move and talk, he says.

Participants are given the flexibility to focus on a specific area or subject. “Each student can choose to work on what they are the most interested in,” Aspeslagh says.

The camp, which draws participants from the Merrimack Valley and the North Shore, goes beyond the STEM lessons taught in school, Aspeslagh says, adding, “Some kids would never get that exposure otherwise.”

A computer programmer by trade, Aspeslagh says he was introduced to the field by a friend’s father, who became his mentor. “If I hadn’t had that, I would’ve had a completely different career,” he says.


Active Science
Andover, Mass.
(978) 685-3541

Future Engineers Camp
Lowell, Mass.
(978) 934-2573

Code & Circuit
Amesbury, Mass.
(978) 386-3800 


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