KAUST Social Responsibility  

The Surprising Success of the KAUST Social Responsibility Science Summer Camp 2020

SSC 2020 Solar Center with Intermediate Students

SSC 2020 Solar Center with Intermediate Students

Summer 2020 was supposed to be the best ever Science Summer Camp - the most students doing the broadest range of activities.  And then COVID-19 overturned everyone’s plans.  A sense of doubt pervaded the planning - how could it ever work? Even if we could persuade our faculty, graduate students, volunteers and summer camp attendees to switch to online, how could practical activities translate to the small screen, how could we keep the students motivated and engaged for any amount of time - it seemed impossible.  But cancelling Science Summer Camp just didn’t seem fair on our students, so we began to investigate how it might work. 

We spoke to our stalwart scientific volunteers – professors, graduate students, researchers and post-docs - from the KAUST Solar Center.  They explained how they could adapt their planned workshops to be delivered through Zoom and with their exuberant enthusiasm and imaginative planning, we could see that the sessions could still be fun and informative.  We already knew we had a great asset in our service provider, Medvation.  A KAUST start-up, Medvation is the creation of two KAUST PhD students, Sakhaa and Guang, who have volunteered with our Young Learners Development Program delivering programming, cybersecurity robotics and coding classes for several years.   We also approached the British Council, our long-standing English language training partner, to see if they would be willing to switch the planned classes to online learning.

All our teaching partners were keen to support a transition to online.  It takes a large team to provide a comprehensive learning experience and the WISE interns are an essential support in delivering a program of diverse, enriching activities, so we invited internship applications and were thrilled with both the number and caliber of students that responded.  The SSC offers interns a great opportunity to experience working in a professional environment and enhance their CV for their college applications.  As part of Social Responsibility’s efforts to promote empowerment of the local communities, our interns are also drawn from the YLDP Alumni in the Thuwal community.

Once we were sure we had a program of value to offer, we opened applications for our 2020 Science Summer School cohort – top students nominated by 12 Elementary, Middle and High Schools from Thuwal, Saabr, Qadimah and Jeddah go through interviews and a competitive selection process.  We timetabled, we delivered computers to students where necessary as well as science and robotic kits – including to one student who travelled with their family to Qassim!  We trialled Zoom and then, on 13 July, Science Summer Camp 2020 began.

The three week camp kicked off with training on Zoom and an introduction to the Summer Camp for our new students.  The timetable of science and math focused classes was rigorous – Elementary students were participating in online classes from 9am-2.30pm, Intermediate 8.30-3pm and High School 8.30am-5pm.  All had breaks for lunch and prayer time but many came back to their Zoom rooms early to chat with their fellow students and staff, with many also staying after the allotted time to chat about their class and ask more questions.  The classes were differentiated for Elementary, Intermediate and High School students, from professors, post-docs and PhD students including:

  • A week of daily classes for High School students with KAUST Solar Centre, introducing how the centre operates, the fundamentals of photovoltaic technology, virtual lab experiences, examples of current research output, current development of solar energy in KSA and potential areas for careers
  • Coding activities for Elementary in collaboration with Amaleed using Scratch (a visual programming language designed to help children learn code) in Arabic
  • Understanding machine learning for Intermediate students in collaboration with Medvation and KAUST PhD students
  • Understanding machine learning, programming and cyber-security in collaboration with Medvation and KAUST PhD students for High School students

Designed as a holistic program, the schedule also included the certified English training delivered by the British Council to each Elementary, Intermediate and High School groups and this was complemented by the English conversation clubs with sports arts and well-being activities run by our WISE student and Thuwal interns. The Science Summer Camp also included talks from the Saudi Research Science Institute (SRSI) and KAUST Gifted Student Program (KGSP) teams, as well as a presentation about how to participate in the annual Science Fair, held each January as part of the University’s Winter Enrichment Program

The SSC was a complete team effort, as these things always are, and the Social Responsibility is so grateful to everyone involved – the team from KAUST Solar Center - Faisal, Areej, Abdulrahman, Ejdan, Michael, Ahmed, Catherine and Frederic; the service providers Medvation and Amaleed; and the British Council.  And a special mention about our WISE and Thuwal YLDP Alumni interns – they were fabulous.   We were delighted to connect peers from TKS, Thuwal Schools and under-graduates from a range of universities to work with the school groups – Majed, Naga, Sultan and Samar with Elementary; Faiza, Ibrahim, Madiba and Shomukh with Intermediate; Matilde and Nouf with High School and Jehad working with all three.  The interns prepared a wide range of activities for their students, ranging from the challenging to the relaxing, but always fun.  They took their responsibilities seriously, showing up from all their different time zones well-prepared and it could not have happened without them – so an especial thank you to them all for their invaluable contribution.

Science Summer Camp 2020 was a surprising success – despite some serious obstacles, everyone came together to participate in an incredible 200 hours of contact time, an astonishing level of engagement from our students.  Their tenacity cannot be underestimated, and it was so good to see their thirst for knowledge matched by the dedication of our KAUST faculty [check include all the right people!] our service providers, and our interns.  Everyone involved, from KAUST, to the students, their parents and our volunteers has enabled it to happen – they have brought enthusiasm, patience and imagination as well as a determination to make the best of the opportunity.  We have learned a great deal that we can take forward to next year.  We have learned that our team and our students are almost infinitely adaptable.  While online learning was a ‘make-do’ this year, in future it could open up opportunities for students across the Kingdom – we’re excited to see what next year brings.

Which of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals does this support?
UN Sustainable Development Goal #4  E-WEB-Goal-07

Part of the Young Learners' Development Program - read the Program Overview here

December 16, 2020

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