Springs School Hosts Hands-On Science Day Camp

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Students dashed through the courtyard at Springs School one warm day earlier this month as part of a team-building exercise. In the hallway, they jostled back and forth like volleyball players, trying to keep balloons in the air. In a farther corridor, another group raced at full speed, taking turns dragging fellow campers on big blue pieces of tarp. In one room, they had dismantled electronic equipment and recyclables to use the parts to build their own “duck chuckers,” contraptions with which to fling rubber duckies into an inflatable kiddie pool.All in the name of science and teamwork.

This summer, for the first time, Springs School participated in Camp Invention, a week-long summer enrichment program designed to supplement traditional book-learning of science, technology, engineering and math via hands-on activities. The day camp was open to incoming students in first through sixth grades, and 46 took part this year. Those entering seventh, eighth and ninth grades could serve as counselors in training, and they assisted the leadership interns, who were in grades 10 and up.

The cost was up to $240 a week, though school officials said there were plenty of discounts available, making it a relatively cheap yet educational activity.

“We were looking into it for a while,” explained Sean Knight, Springs science teacher and so-called “fearless” camp leader. “There are so many sports camps around. Stony Brook University has some things, but it’s a long drive out there, especially in the summer traffic.

“The goal is just having the kids learn through hands-on learning. There’s a lot of risk-taking involved in this camp, which is kind of the goal, where they have a safe environment where they can put themselves out there with a lot of their ideas,” he said.

Behind him students shuffled from activity to activity.

The camp has four main “modules”: Problem Solving on Planet Zak, Saving Sludge City, I Can Invent, and Launchitude and Geo-Games, the first three of which are trademarked.

The games involve plenty of physical exertion for the youngsters, Sema Mendelman, a parent helper at the camp, pointed out happily on a recent tour through the modules. Ms. Mendelman, who had two children in the camp, smiled nonstop as she spoke about how the activities stress creative problem solving and allow students to learn from mistakes.

In the Planet Zak classroom that afternoon, the kids listened to a brief explanation about concepts of air pressure and lift and thrust—but instead of copying down definitions in notebooks, they promptly took to blowing up balloons and guiding them along a piece of string tied between two chairs, trying to get the balloons in a paper bag. According to the camp story line, they all crash-landed on the strange planet earlier in the week and had to reassemble their spacecraft using everyday objects. After taking care of shelter, clothing and food, they then had to figure out how to launch their rockets in time for blast-off.

Across the way, students were busy saving the fictional Sludge City. The idea here was to use environmental science concepts to build a cleaner, greener city after a previous one was brought to ruin by pollution. The class could easily have been mistaken for an arts and crafts activity, with its cardboard, straw, foil and pipe cleaners in all colors of the rainbow twisted together.

In the center of the camp, though, was the little blow-up kiddie pool, and all the plastic yellow ducks were aiming to get in, a display of physics in action.

Working in teams, the students kneeled around their homemade “chuckers,” taking turns catapulting the toys toward their target.

This was a highlight for camper Mia Pardini, who is going into fifth grade.

“You got to like take apart things,” she explained, adding that she and her teammates, Bailey Grant and Hannah Hartsough, disassembled an old radio, CD player and coffeemaker in order to build their device.

That afternoon, their little ducky missed its mark several times, but that was okay. With a little persistence and little repositioning, the bath toy eventually arced through the air and hit the water with a small splash. As soon as it did, the girls’ arms shot into the air with glee.

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