Almost in an instant, the summer is over and it’s the last week of Harlem Grown’s summer camp. Realizing that seven weeks of farming, science projects, and basketball shoot-outs have passed by is nearly mind-boggling. Looking back, I am reminded of how fortunate I am to have worked with these incredible kids.
During the third week of camp, we completed one of my favorite projects: making treats for the chickens. As a group, we discussed the benefits of keeping chickens (both for their eggs and their help in breaking down food scraps), as well as the chickens’ dietary needs. Based on this, we used pinecones, sunflower butter, and an array of bread crumbs, bird feed, and seeds to make hanging treats. This project helped to segue into our next lesson on biomes and biodiversity.
In order to teach the campers about biodiversity and different climates/biomes, the lesson plan needed to be alter to each group. A lot of the language surrounding biodiversity and biomes can be difficult for younger campers to grasp, so images accompanied our explanations of tundra, taiga, and temperate forests. Teaching the youngest group about biomes was helpful for me personally, because I am accustomed to the oldest group of 12-14 year olds and forget how younger kids tend to think. For example, when asked why plants in the tundra have smaller leaves than plants in other biomes, one camper explained that it was because the picture was printer smaller than the others. While humorous, moments like these remind me that academia can be exclusionary due to pretentious language that alienates more than it educates, and that I need to be more conscious of my word choice and explanations when teaching. Along with our discussion questions, we had the campers draw their favorite biomes, so they could create a more tangible form of the lesson.
While the first half of our STEM projects centered around science and biology, we shifted the focus towards lessons that emphasized experimentation and a bit of math. One lesson plan had the campers create their own recipes based on fruits and vegetables grown on the farms. The process of writing out recipe procedures mirrors that of a science experiment. In order for the experiment or recipe to be reproduced, the instructions must be specific enough that someone else can replicate the design. The campers struggled with language, as it is much easier to write “make a pizza” than to write out the individual steps that encompass making a pizza. It was also fascinating to see how the campers came up with ingredient amounts based on their own, individual logic. For example, in one camper’s recipe for a fruit smoothie, she listed 12 strawberries, 5 ice, and 12 bananas. When I asked if 12 bananas seemed like too many, she explained that you needed even amounts for the fruit flavors to balance out.
The final STEM experiment was a highly requested one from the campers: making slime. The 2018 viral sensation was a favorite among the campers for its satisfying texture, and for its mystifying creation. Using just glue and laundry detergent, our campers learned the importance of balance and experimentation by working diligently to find the perfect balance of stickiness to stretchiness. Making slime is not easy. There is no clear recipe, as it all depends on ratios and mixing techniques. Few campers made the slime perfectly on their first try, but those that failed at first were quick to try again and make careful changes. This experiment brought about the most focus and determination I had seen for a science experiment, and the biggest clean up at camp.
The lessons presented to the campers allowed everyone to experience specific areas of science (biology, ecology, etc.) while also underlining the larger themes of experimentation and the scientific method. While labeled a STEM period, our lessons and activities tended more towards science, because of the age limitations. Campers’ phones are not allowed during camp hours, and it’s not advisable to trust the one camp camera with seven-year olds. Even the idea of introducing more math heavy activities to the campers was difficult, because of the varying abilities of the campers, even within their own age groups. The scientific elements of our STEM periods were very successful, as they presented entertaining, hands-on activities to the kids while sneaking in subtle themes of scientific exploration. In the next few days, I hope to talk about the lessons with the campers and gauge their receptiveness to math/technology-based lessons. While I’m excited to receive feedback on the lessons, I am saddened by the realization that camp is two days from being over, and my daily routine that I’ve grown so accustomed to, as well as my time with the campers who I’ve grown with will be over soon.