York science camp grows, adds engineering to its lineup

Above: From left, Engineering Explorations campers Ryan Peter, Molly Sicilia and Michelle Sue concentrate during a round of science Jeopardy

It seems science at York is the new cool for kids.

The Faculty of Science & Engineering’s Science Explorations Camp started as a new program of only a few weeks with 60 participants. In just four years, it has grown into a full-summer program of eight weeks with spaces for 180 children.

“We have 156 campers registered at the moment so we still have some spots left,” says Corinne Sperling, outreach manager in the Office of the Dean of the Faculty of Science & Engineering (FSE).

Right: Engineering Explorations instructors quiz campers on concepts

With the success of the program there have been a number of returning campers and Sperling says it became important to introduce new curriculum to keep things fresh and interesting. To that end, an engineering component was added last year, which saw campers getting hands-on experience building simple projects called Rube Goldberg machines after the famous cartoonist and engineer who created outlandish designs for devices that performed simple tasks. The component is aimed at a slightly older age group, 10- to 13-year olds, and helps introduce a foundation of engineering concepts. It has proved so popular that two engineering weeks have been added to this year’s schedule. “The module really gives them a sampling of what engineering is all about,” says Sperling.

This year’s newest offering is kinesiology week, which introduces children to the science of physical activity and the dynamics of movement, with lots of hands-on participation.

In addition to games, quizzes and projects, campers get to tour York’s science labs, such as the Centre for Vision Research and its “upside down room”, and take part in workshops led by York Faculty members like Professor Regina Lee, of the Space Engineering program, who led a session on mini-satellite design. Guests from organizations such as the York Chapter of Engineers Without Borders and the York University Rover Team have also led workshops. Other stops on the tour include the York University Observatory and the Biology Department’s greenhouse.

Left: From left, Frederick Lavois, Kurtis Ng, Shylan Sirasaenthan and Christian Tomasone show off their Rube Goldberg project

It’s all part of York’s efforts to raise awareness in the broader community of what the University has to offer. “Our focus is not recruitment,” says Sperling, “it’s outreach in the wider sense: here is science and what it’s about. There is a need at the elementary level for more of that. A number of faculty members have said schools sometimes can be ‘science averse’ and there’s not enough exposure to science.”

Sperling’s staff of five – a coordinator and four instructors – is complemented by a host of volunteers, many of whom were recruited by FSE faculty members from among their undergraduate students. Several upper-level high school science students also help out to gain experience. Many of the staff and volunteers have designs on becoming science teachers and several have applied to the concurrent bachelor of education (BEd) program in the Faculty of Education, which this year introduced a BEd Summer Science program for its Summer 2010 session. Sperling says she purposely selects the instructors from a variety of fields to maximize the appeal to campers. “When they teach, their enthusiasm for their field really comes out,” she says.

As specialized as it all sounds, Sperling is quick to point out the camp is open to anyone, not just children of faculty and staff or future scientists.

For more information on the Science and Engineering Explorations camps, visit their Web site or e-mail explore@yorku.ca.

By David Fuller, YFile contributing writer