Normally, middle-schoolers don’t get to use professional materials and equipment such as synthetic blood and digital micropipettes to learn about science.
But this July, kids had access to these tools and more at the Science in the Summer camp at the Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield.
“It’s really cool stuff,” said Alex Stevens, 13, who lives in Smithfield. “We learn a lot of new stuff. We make a lot of friends.”
Normally, Alex said, teachers do things for her. But at the camp, students are expected to complete tasks on their own.
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“They treat us like we can do it,” she said.
Science in the Summer is a free camp that teaches science lessons in a fun classroom setting with games, arts and crafts, and experiments. Campers even get a visit from a large bus fitted with lab space and equipment, part of the DESTINY Traveling Science Learning Program.
Science in the Summer sends certified teachers and supplies to Triangle-area libraries and community centers, which provide classroom space. The camp is open to students in grades 2-8 and has multiple sessions divided into age groups.
Parents can register their children for the camp in March, said Margaret Marshall, director of the Smithfield library. But the spots fill up quickly, sometimes within minutes; the camp is popular with both kids and parents.
“I just know the kids seems really happy when they go in and seem really happy when they come out,” Marshall said.
Science in the Summer also provides the library with money to buy books about each year’s theme. This year, the library received $400, Marshall said.
Now in its sixth year, Science in the Summer is sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline and taught by UNC’s Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. The camp has a different topic each year; this summer’s topic was genetics.
Alanna Hurley, a high school student who helped teach last week’s class, said she wished she could have gone to this kind of camp when she was younger.
“They have hands-on stuff and ask questions they don’t get time to ask in the classroom,” she said.
Nick Hoffman, a science education specialist at the Morehead Planetarium, taught the lab experiments on the DESTINY bus last Wednesday.
“We’d like to think that we’re inspiring new generations of scientists,” he said.
But connecting with the broader community is also an important part of the program. Hoffman said everyone can benefit from lab experience and scientific literacy.
“It’s good for everyone to know these things,” he said.
Alyssa Gibson, 12, of Smithfield said she likes zoology but considers science a hobby. She, too, said she enjoyed the camp – especially the experiments.
“I really wouldn’t be able to do something like this at home,” she said. “My school is so small.”