Science Camp

April 28, 2008 at 12:57 pm Leave a comment

Tomorrow will be exactly one month since I ran in the Longtom Ultramarathon.  What an amazing unforgetable day it was!  I just cannot believe, though, that already a month has gone by since then and we are almost into May of this new year, one third of the way through 2008.  As a result of time seeming to fly by faster than I can keep up, this new blog post is going to be a little late.  It is certainly worth telling you all about though and I hope you enjoy hearing about one little project that I did with another volunteer, AJ Kumar.   

AJ is a one of my best friends in the Peace Corps.  You may or may not remember, but collectively we wrote a speech together for our Swearing-In Ceremony when we officially became Peace Corps Volunteers.  AJ is an absolutely facinating person to be around.  He is so amazing that many other volunteers have chosen to give him the title, K.O.W. or King Of the World.  As a graduate of Exeter Highschool and Stanford University and already accepted into Harvard for his Graduate Degree…AJ certainly lives up to his name when it comes to almost anything.  So when he asked if I would want to come help him out with a science camp at his village site, I didn’t think twice.

Over the Easter Holiday, I spent two weeks with AJ.  After the Longtom Ultra he and I, along with two other friends, went for a three day hike in the Blyde River Canyon, the World’s Third Largest Canyon.  Following a week of fresh air and canned food cooked on an open fire, we traveled for three days back to his site, located in the Northern Cape Province.  The name of his village is Heneingvlei and is well known for the two large salt pans that are the only remnants of an ancient lake that once covered the landscape. 

This was my first time in the Northern Cape.  I love my site, but if I had to choose another one, it would be AJ’s.  Besides being very very rural, there was little else to complain about as far as I am concerned.  He had a wonderful host family with the most adorable little kids.  The youngest one was around 2 years old and was definitely a “free bird”.  That little tike would run around bottomless all day if he could.  The funniest part was when he would see his mom rushing towards him with a pair of pants.  Not willing to give in to her attempts, he would turn on his heels and flee as fast as his tiny legs could carry him in the opposite direction. 

Another upside to his village was the large, two story, well resourced high school that stood about 200 yards from his house.  It was this school that we used to put on a 5 day science camp for anyone between the age of 7-20 years that could attend.  Later I would find out that AJ was also blessed to have some pretty darn amazing kids in his village too. 

 The week before the camp, AJ and I had thrown around different ideas for the camp.  We both have a science degree, his being in physical science and mine in biology.  It turned out that we both had the right combination of ideas and expertise to put on a super fun science and sports camp.  In the end, we decided to give the kids a little bit of a taste of everything: chemistry, ecology, geology, and physics. 

This was the second camp that AJ had done at his site.  The first was a chess/sports/science camp for all ages.  From his experience from that first camp, he thought it best to seperate the camp into two age groups.  The plan was to have ages 7-14 years in the morning from 8-12 and ages 15-20 years in the afternoon from 2-6.  Despite being physically and mentally drained after nearly 10 hours of camp + preparation every day, I would say that dividing the age groups is the way to go. 

We arrived back at his site on a Sunday evening and spent the rest of the day light hours walking around the village advertising to children and parents and handing out fliers.  Unfortunately, because the custom in South African Culture is to have visitors sit down and and share a cup of tea, we didn’t manage to get far.  The only thing we could hope for was that the word would spread and we would have more than 5 kids at the camp on Monday morning. 

The next day we went to the school early to get things prepared and low and behold the kids started drifting in.  Before the morning session was done, we had about 25 kids in attendance.  The item for the first day was Volcanoes and Dinosaurs.  We had the kids get into groups and they constructed volcanoes and green dinosaurs out of home-made playdough (flour, water, and salt).  I was a bit shocked to find out that only 1 or 2 kids actually new what a dinosaur was!  Growing up as a child of their age, I was such a dinosaur fanatic that I could name and spell correctly nearly every dinosaur known to man.  After constructed the volcanoes and dinosaurs we had a short lesson on geology and the rock cycle before heading outside to play some soccer. 

Later that day we had class with the highschool learners and the topic for the day was Chemistry: Mystery Powders.  It was a lab that I had learned about when student teaching at North Winneshiek Schools with the Star Teacher Birgitta Meade.  The idea behind the lab is to give learners +/- 5 white powders (salt, sugar, flour, baking soda, cornstarch, etc.) that they do a series of tests to (look, feel, water, vinegar, iodine, heat,etc.) to describe the physical and chemical properties of the powders.  Then the teacher mixes 2 or 3 powders together and the learners have to conclude what the combined powders are based on their previous observations. 

Mystery Powders

AJ instructed the learners on how to correctly write a lab report (materials and methods, observations/results, discussion, conclusion, etc.).  Clearly the learners had never done anything like this before but the soon grasped the concept and visually showed that they were enjoying themselves. 

The remainder of the week followed a similar format.  Tuesday was ecology day. 

Exploding Volcanoes

After “erupting” our volcanoes with baking soda and red dyed vinegar we did a science inquiry lab on ants with the elementary learners.  We had them observing ants and then collecting them into jars with sand to make ant farms.  The highschool learners did  a field experiment collecting plant, insect, and soil samples from a location near the school.  We used the experience to talk to them about animal and plant relationships and the adaptations they have to their environments. 

On Wednesday we decided to give the elementary learners a break (actually AJ and I needed one more than them).  We did have class with the Highschool students and had them experimenting with different lab stations demonstrating the properties of waves.  We had a wave pool to show the behavior of water waves, mirrors and prisims to show light waves, and a spring to calculate the velocity of a wave.  Even I found this lab informative, because I had never seen or used a wave pool before. 

On Thursday we had the little kids again and took time to teach them how to play kick ball and four square, two games foreign to them. 

Four Square Tourney

Kick Ball

We also gave them a chance to readjust their ant farms because many of them forgot to leave air for the ants and all their specimens died (a good way to get the kids thinking about what living things need to survive…that is unless you are an ant!).  We also let the kids play with some of the items related to waves.  Later that day the highschool students spent most of the day working on their many lab reports.  It was a challenge for them, but we could see they were gaining a lot from it.  Even I can’t remember doing a formal lab report until I was in college.  We rewarded the learners with an intense game of basketball.  It was a nice feeling to be able excell at a ball-sport in this country.  Usually it is soccer and I certainly am out of my league when it comes to that. 

The last day for the elementary learners included a heated tournament of four square followed by a quiz over the weeks material.  We ended the camp by awarding each particpant with a participatory certificate and prizes for good behavior, attendance, good quiz score, etc.  The afternoon session was very similar, except that we played a basketball tournament instead of four square.  Despite having some stressful moments throughout the week, whether it was planning or being unable to communicate in Setswana well enough, AJ and I were very pleased with the weeks results. 

Me and some high school students

That night AJ and I relaxed and rewarded ourselves with chocolate send from his parents along with Transformers, the movie.  I have to say that although we were exhausted from the week and partly wondering why we had spent our “vacation” working so hard, we both wouldn’t have chosen to do anything else.  The camp was so rewarding for both the kids and us!  We could easily see that we had done something for the kids that was educational and still fun.  Over the course of the week, the average daily attendance was 30 elementary learners and 20 highschool learners.  Not to shabby I have to say.  A clear demonstration that AJ has some pretty cool kids at his site; and yeah AJ, you are pretty cool yourself.  Thanks for letting me be a part of that wonderful week in Heneingflei. 


Entry filed under: Community Projects, School Projects.

Longtom Ultramarathon Bucket Baths…everything you did (or didn’t) want to know!

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