The budding scientists had more than just butterfly nets and magnifying glasses at their disposal - they had iPads loaded with apps to help them photograph and identify bug species, track animals, monitor the weather and more.
"Twenty-first-century learners need to have that technology background," said fifth-grade teacher Bridget Lovelle from Mary Giella Elementary School. "Everything we are doing is becoming more and more technology-based. They need to learn to use this, and know that it's not just for playing games."
The iPads were integrated this year into the 2013 Pasco Environmental Adventure Camp Experience. The PEACE program gives children the opportunity to study the environment through a variety of engaging, hands-on activities while visiting the Energy and Marine Center, Starkey Environmental Education Center, Crystal Springs Preserve and the Florida Aquarium.
Dozens of iPads were purchased through the school district, and the lesson plans for the science summer camp were tweaked to integrate the mobile devices.
"In the past, we have had a tech camp separate from the PEACE camp, and this year the district decided to combine them," Lovelle said. "Students use that technology to find information, take pictures and video, and throughout the week, make a Keynote presentation to show what they learned using that technology aspect."
On this particular day of camp, students took over the Starkey Environmental Education Center to learn about animal tracks, native Florida plants, insects, owls and more. The lessons started inside the classroom and moved out to the park for real-world application.
Hailey Thornton, 10, saved her Keynote file on gopher tortoises, and then took her iPad out to a field where she used it to snap photos of her classmates running around with nets and even a close-up of a stick insect she caught herself.
"I made lots of videos and lots of pictures for my keynote," Hailey said. "We were swooping through the grass with nets, and we could catch bugs and view them."
Hailey was one of 850 students from Pasco County schools invited out to the week-long summer camp for the technology-infused science lessons. Twenty-five students from 34 schools in the county were invited to take part in the grant-funded program by the Pasco School District.
All the schools invited to PEACE qualify for Title I funding, supplemental grants for high-poverty schools used to promote high academic achievement, improve teaching and learning, and increase parent and community involvement. Title I is a federally funded entitlement program made possible through the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
"(The camp's) standards are based on our new 'Next Generation' standards, and give them a leg up on what we are hoping they'll learn during the next school year," Lovelle said. "This is more of a hands-on opportunity that we like to provide to the kids, because we all know that students learn when they are actively engaged in doing."
The camp runs for two more weeks, with different schools participating at the four centers. Lovelle said the goal is for these students, all of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch, to learn to use technology they may not be able to afford at home, which is important for not only STEM jobs, but all future professions.
"They are really learning they can take this equipment and use it to find information and use it to educate themselves when they want to know something," Lovelle said. "It's what our society is looking for and as we continue to cultivate them as learners, we need them to understand the technology and be able to pick it up and use it to the best of its ability."