By Mason Braasch & Caroline Cole
The Department of Chemistry’s Institute for Chemical Education offered free summer chemistry camps online, continuing a four-decade-long tradition of education, despite disruptions caused by the pandemic.
The virtual camps are available to children and families with computer, tablet or smartphone access to the Institute’s website. Two groups of virtual activities are online: one for children entering grades K–4 in the fall and another for children entering grades 5–8.
Activities cover a range of scientific topics including chemical reactions, engineering, physics and learning how to do and troubleshoot experiments. The Institute worked to make the experiments safe, inexpensive and easy to do at home, says Iszie Tigges-Green, the Institute outreach specialist.
“We’ve eliminated all activities that need to be done in a lab or require supervision by trained staff, and we focused only on the activities for which you could find the materials around the house, and do them with either some or minimal parental guidance,” Tigges-Green said.
Most experiments require common items such as plastic bottles, aluminum cans or popsicle sticks. But the lessons and the experiences provided are close to what the traditional camps offer.
“These virtual camps provide an experience similar to what we would have given them at the in-person camps, but for free. It’s not the same as in-person, but for quite a few of the things that we do in the camps, students could do almost the same thing at home,” said John Moore, Institute director.
Each activity offers a science background that encourages campers to observe, think and draw scientific conclusions they may not reach on their own.
At in-person camps, there is one group leader for every three or four children, which allows campers to interact with scientists — something that is hard to replicate online, Moore points out. To provide a similar experience, students can find a series of troubleshooting questions in case they come across challenges carrying out their experiments.
“At the camps, the campers are usually able to talk with the group leaders about the activity,” Tigges-Green said. “We’ve added learning objectives so that they can learn more from the activity.”
The virtual format allows children to think independently within their experiments or collaborate with family members at home.
“Families can try it out — and their siblings or their cousins or their grandparents can try it out as well,” Tigges-Green said. “It can become more a family activity or more a group activity with people in the home.”