Academic camps provide learning and fun

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published July 18, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated July 17, 2013 at 11:11 a.m.
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Wayne Bryan

A group of young students try to build a complicated machine that will pop a balloon, during the Mission Possible class in the science and math camp offered Saturday at the College of the Ouachitas. The class, taught by COTO President Stephen Schoonmaker, was created to teach teamwork and that not all ideas work the first time, but that a lack of success is not always failure.

A family’s summer can be filled with all kinds of special events, from vacation trips to a day at a state park or some other Arkansas attraction. This summer is also full of opportunities for learning.

On Saturday, more than 60 children, ages 5 to 11, spent their day on the campus of the College of the Ouachitas in Malvern at a science and math camp held in association with the Arkansas Science Olympiad.

“Our goal is mostly to teach teamwork, and that things don’t always work out the way you expect,” said Martin Eggensperger, vice president of instruction for the college. “We want them to know that science is exploring and is a hands-on, fun activity.”

The four-hour event at the college offered classes with interesting names such as Aerodynamics, Mystery Architecture, Write It Do it, Treasure Hunt, Estimania and Mission Possible. Aerodynamics included building paper airplanes, based on the same laws of lift and airflow used to design the real things. In Barge Building, students built aluminum-foil boats that carried a cargo of pennies. The designs were tested in a pond near the classroom.

“In Estimania, we used mathematics to make our best guess about things,” Eggensperger said. “We had a round jar and a square jar, and we asked the students to figure out which jar would hold more. We then asked how many pieces of candy were in another jar and how to make an ‘educated’ guess.”

The children were divided into teams according to their age. In a short meeting before the students began their classes, Eggensperger asked the students what qualities make up a scientist.

“The kids said the things I expected, like smart, educated,

curious and focused,” he said. “Finally, some said scientists are team players, honest, who like to have fun — the actual comment was ‘scientists like to blow things up’— and that they don’t let go of a problem.”

Academic camps are designed to make learning fun and to show that the principles of science and other subjects are part of the everyday world.

In June, almost 40 middle school students worked with faculty from Henderson State University’s biology and chemistry departments, along with personnel from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. The students conducted water and DNA tests with the experts at the university’s Simonson Biological Field Station at DeGray Lake near Bismarck.

The three-day camp, Wonderful Water Days, was hosted by the South Arkansas Mathematics and Science Center and the HSU Talent Search program.

“The Henderson Talent Search provides STEM camps to students to focus on science, technology, engineering and math as a way of connecting a rigorous curriculum in school to the outside world and careers,” said Robyn Chastain, assistant director of Talent Search.

At the math and science fair at College of the Ouachitas, teachers stressed that there was no competition in the games and experiments. While each class taught different principles of science, each was supposed to be fun, said Nelson Bailey, a volunteer teacher from the Malvern Kiwanis International Club and a former faculty member at the two-year college, when it was known as Ouachita Technical College.

Bailey led Mystery Building, a session in which students tried to construct as high a structure as possible using foam cups, paper plates, wooden rods and a notebook.

“The top has to be stable enough so that a pingpong ball can rest at the top,” Dailey said. “We had second-graders putting some pretty tall structures together in just a few minutes. Then they started trying to figure out how they could get them taller.”

The young students were told only to build a structure using the materials at hand; then they were left to use their own creativity.

“For a while, the notebook was just left on the table by every team,” Eggensperger said as he watched the teams build their towers. “Then when one team realized they could use the big three-ring binder as part of their tower, you could see these kids’ eyes and see the light come on with the possibilities. That is the kind of moment we want these students to experience. That is the hope of every teacher in every classroom.”

Building something was also the project for Mission Possible, taught by Stephen Schoonmaker, president of COTO.

“We are building Rube Goldberg machines, so the idea was to use as many steps as possible to accomplish an easy task,” he said. “First I told them about Goldberg, the cartoonist who designed all kinds of crazy, multi-step machines to do things like put toothpaste on a toothbrush or to wipe your mouth with a napkin.”

The object was to build a machine to pop a balloon using as many items as possible found on a work table. The items included a balloon, tacks, a mousetrap, balls, rulers — both short and long, cord, wooden rods, foam cups, a pail and a small shovel. A working model built earlier was run to show the students it could be done.

“We helped with things like taping items together,” Schoonmaker said. “We then left it up to the students to create the machine.”

After the first designed failed, they were reminded by the college president that many inventions had failures before the right design was developed.

“They learn that failure is part of the process,” Schoonmaker said. “Edison used more than 1,000 fibers before he found the right material to use as the filament of the light bulb. He said those earlier attempts were not failures, but discoveries of how not to make a light bulb.”

Academic camps are being held throughout the summer around the state. Arkansas State University offers Summer Camp Academy all summer long. Classes are under way this week for reading, music and a program called Disaster Camp. Other classes, such as creating a graphic novel, music workshops and a critter camp, are available. One class, Young Chef’s Academy, teaches healthy and safe cooking for students in grades seven through 12. For information on future classes, contact the university at www.astate.edu/ceco for details.

Camp Ozark, a Christian summer camp near Mount Ida, offers a long list of summer-enrichment programs, including writing and journalism, media arts, science and design, or “how things work,” and classes using the Ouachita National Forest as an outdoor classroom. For more information, visit www.campozark.com.

In Perryville, Heifer International offers academic, adventure and farming camps at Heifer Ranch and other learning centers in Heifer’s Summer Action program.The camps are both educational programs and opportunities to participate in service projects for students ages 10 to 15, and there is a young-adult program for ages 15 to 25, according to information provided by Heifer International.

“Activities teach participants more about world hunger, Heifer International’s mission and, perhaps most importantly, about themselves,” the organization’s website states. For more information, visit www.heifer.org.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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