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Science + Camp = A Fun Way to Learn

On a recent July morning, a team of children in red, yellow, blue and green T-shirts were busy connecting long plastic rods and vinyl tubes in the Teachers College gymnasium. Within an hour and a half, they had built four dome-shaped structures reaching almost to the ceiling of the gym.

Mallory Bagwell, founder of The Movement Company, and his two sons, helped the groups assemble the structures. After enjoying a short snack-time underneath, Bagwell and the children took them all down. It was just one of the many hands-on, fun activities that the children in the Hollingworth Summer Science Camp experienced this year.

Some of the things the children learned from the experience, according to Lisa Wright, director of the Hollingworth Center and adjunct associate professor in Curriculum and Teaching, was the strength of triangles and how a triangle can create structure.

Bagwell, who ran the event, has two degrees in physical education and trained to be a clown. He uses movement-based activities on a large scale to engage children, as well as adults, in experiential learning. "We could do this on a small scale at desks," Bagwell said. "The reason we don't is that anytime things are out of reach, you need to verbalize and use vocabulary." While the students were learning to cooperate, Bagwell said, they were also using words to make it work.

At its start, the Hollingworth Center camp, which was established in 1987 by TC Associate Professor James Borland and educational consultant Heidi Jacobs, had an interdisciplinary focus. While the activities are still interdisciplinary, for the past seven years the core of the program has been science. "Children are natural scientists," Wright explains. "They ask a lot of questions about how and why things work. Often in early childhood programs, science is not treated as fully as reading, writing and math are."

In addition to the geodome building project, the camp offered a range of other hands-on activities. One was Science Through Art. "This year the focus was the art of the naturalist," Wright explained. The children studied how a naturalist acquires and documents information, and they were introduced to the Audobon bird drawings. The campers then created their own three-dimensional bird sculptures.

Another activity was Science Through Music, which looked at the science of sound and how it impacts instruments, sound waves and acoustics.

Country day trips included a visit to the Bruce Museum in Connecticut, which features natural history, environmental history and art. "One of the things we try to do with our field trips is give the kids hands-on, enriching science experience as well as an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and play," Wright noted. Other field trips included a beach walk on the Long Island Sound, visits to the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Connecticut, the Greenberg Nature Center in Scarsdale, and, for older groups, a trip on a 20-foot schooner which acts as a floating classroom for marine science, and orienteering using a compass and maps.

"This program gives us an opportunity to test exciting curricula and see how children respond to it," said Wright. "If something is successful and positive, we continue to do it. If something was less successful, we are not wedded to it."

The camp ran from June 29 to July 31. Eight groups of children divided by age, ranging from age four to grade four, made up the program. "Our campers tend to be curious and to have an interest in science and scientific phenomenon," Wright noted.

For information on the Hollingworth Center or next year's camp program, contact Lisa Wright at extension 3849.

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