Camp Explore gives students hands-on learning
By Tony Graf email@example.com August 5, 2012 6:38PM
Karina Acosta, 9, (below) holds on as she is pushed by Diaymond Trotter, 9, (top) through the wheel and axle obstacle course during Joliet's summer school program, Camp Explore, at Taft School Tuesday, July 3, 2012, in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 7, 2012 6:09AM
JOLIET — If it were possible to make a seed sprout by cheering it on, Darcy Berg would be a pioneer in the field.
Berg visited summer camp at Taft Elementary School in Joliet, and her cheering ensured that her visit was anything but a sleepy July day.
She was here with Joliet Junior College’s Kid’s College. After her brief lesson, she had the students shouting out the right conditions for growing plants.
“Right amount of water!”
These kids caught on quickly. And they definitely were energetic enough to make any sprout leap from its mid-summer snooze. Soon, the students would get a hands-on lesson in plant growth.
Reinforcement is important. So is hands-on learning. And so is fun. This year’s program had all three. This was the first year the Joliet Grade School District conducted full-day summer camp.
The summer camp — Camp Explore — gave students a hands-on learning experience with reading, mathematics and science at Taft.
Students got classroom lessons in the morning, and then took in-school “field trips” in the afternoon, exploring fun subjects that reinforce those basic lessons.
“We’re bringing the field trips to them,” said Sandy Gavin, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
Visitors included staff from the Pilcher Park Nature Center, the Joliet Park District and Joliet Junior College.
One in-school field trip was “Bats Our Flying Friends & Squirmin’ Worms,” presented in June by the Pilcher Park Nature Center. In addition to regular instruction, staff brought in displays — including preserved bats — and had question-and-answer sessions with students. The staff also brought in live worms for presentations.
“They extended the lesson and taught them more about bats — the different foods they eat, the places where they live — to continue to build up student knowledge,” said Narishea Parham, principal of the Camp Explore program at Taft.
Bats were an important part of the “Mysteries” programs taught at Camp Explore this summer. In the programs, students are explorers, investigating mysteries such as bat caves. Teachers introduce the subject via computer, and then the students connect the dots of the mystery via research, reading and writing. In the end, the students work in groups to discuss what they learned and what they can prove as explorers.
In the bats unit, students made dioramas: bat cave displays with stalagmites and stalactites, cave streams made of blue paper and paper bats. Their work was displayed in the hallways at Taft.
Full day of camp
These afternoon mystery subjects are a fun and engaging way of reinforcing the reading, math and science lessons taught in the morning. Students started with breakfast from 8:35 to 8:50 a.m., and then had classroom sessions from 9 a.m. to noon.
During those three hours, there was a half-hour physical education class, which itself was a reinforcement of classroom learning.
When The Herald-News visited in July, the PE lesson involved simple machines. For instance, students learned how their arms worked as levers.
In this way, the PE classes served as more than physical activity time. They taught concepts in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — a field known by the STEM acronym.
Students broke for lunch and recess at noon and then took their in-school field trips in the afternoon. Dismissal was at 3 p.m.
Taft wasn’t the only school having fun this summer. Woodland and Singleton schools also hosted summer camps with a variety of activities.
Dr. Charles Coleman, superintendent of the grade school district, began the initiative for full-day summer school camp. The district hopes to expand the program to additional grade levels next year.
Summer camp also included two out-of-school field trips. Students attended Legoland Discovery Center in Schaumburg on June 20, and Brookfield Zoo on July 19.
After her classroom session, Berg took the students to the gym for a “Seed in a Glove” exercise.
Students took plastic gloves — food service gloves, not latex — and planted five different types of seeds, each in a dampened cottonball placed in a different finger of the glove.
If this isn’t “hands-on” learning, then what is?
Students then applied a twist-tie and were instructed to hang the gloves with the seeds in a window or on a clothesline. Eventually, students would be able to see the seeds crack open and the sprout grow.
During Berg’s visit, students planted radishes, pumpkins, watermelons, corn and beans. The first initial of each word was on the corresponding finger of the glove.
So let’s review. Yes, it’s still summer break, but we can do this.
What are the conditions for growing? Temperature. Right amount of water. Air.
And a seed planted in a young mind.