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Get Real! Science Program reinvents summer camp with an at-home twist

Get Real! Science Program Reinvents Summer Camp with an At-Home Twist
Sodus middle school students will confront sustainability science issues safely from home 

For more than a decade, the University of Rochester’s Get Real! Science Camp typically took place along the shorelines of Lake Ontario, allowing kids to learn science while making positive changes in their own community. But this year is anything but typical. Camp organizers have had to adjust to the COVID-19 times, making the decision to move the summer program completely online.

Thirty Sodus middle school students are taking part in this year's weeklong summer camp that runs July 16-23. Led by graduate students who are training to become science teachers at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education, the annual summer camp is offered for the fourth consecutive summer, in partnership with the Sodus Central School District, to students outside of Monroe County. Prior to that, the weeklong camp was open to students in Rochester city schools.

According to Heather Uetz, assistant superintendent of curriculum at Sodus Central School District, their students eagerly return to the camp year after year.

“Each summer, our middle school students are so excited to work with the teachers at the University of Rochester,” she says. “The authentic application of math and science skills to real-world questions is highly engaging for our students. They truly enjoy working together, solving problems, and learning from each other.” 

This year, the partnership creates a virtual camp experience from beginning to end. Safely from their own homes, Sodus campers will meet daily, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., via Google Meet. Throughout the week, camp organizers will deliver Get Real! Science equipment and materials to students to enhance the hands-on learning of science and the overall summer camp experience.
Sodus logoWith the help of a new grant from the University’s Sustainability Studies, a new focus on sustainability will complement the camp’s existing science theme. Renamed the Get Real! Science Sustainability Camp this year, the summer program brings on board four new undergraduate students from Arts, Sciences, and Engineering, who have been hired as sustainability interns, to collaborate with graduate students in Warner’s science education program in developing eight custom sustainability experiences for the science campers.

Incorporating augmented reality (AR) and other technologies with sustainability science, Sodus students will participate in a sustainability challenge by creating miniature immersive technology trails in their own yards. The hiking trails will center around the following themes: pollination, climate change, environmental justice, sustainable agriculture, invasive species, waste, sustainable fashion, and water conservation. Campers will have the opportunity to hike the trails with their families this summer and become “Sodus Sustainability Champions” by collecting all eight digital badges.

Two levels of authentic, meaningful learning experiences are provided through the summer camp. First, it gives youth a hands-on approach as to what science is all about and how it can make positive changes around issues in their own community. On the camp’s last day, Thursday, July 23, 2020 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., the Sodus students will present their work to their families and friends during a virtual public showcase.

Second, the camp also gives Warner graduate students, who are studying to become science teachers, some practical experience working with students in a non-traditional, informal academic setting. These soon-to-be science teachers—known as preservice teachers—guide Sodus students in acting, thinking, and working like real scientists to tackle real local environmental problems in their own community. Situating science in a local community helps teachers understand the crucial role place and culture plays in learning.

“As Get Real! Science preservice teachers, we are aiming to engage students in authentic, hands-on, and creative sustainability science work that is grounded in Sodus’ own unique cultural identity and community,” explains Hana Goldstein, a master’s student in Warner’s science education program. “At the end of the day, we want students’ camp experience to be fun and memorable, despite the remote learning environment.”

And these authentic learning experiences will extend beyond the virtual summer camp into the new school year, when Sodus students will continue their work in the fall by building a larger immersive technology trail that runs behind their school for the broader community to enjoy and earn digital badges.
Sodus Sustainability Challenge mapAssociate Professor April Luehmann, who created and directs the Get Real! Science Program, says working with Sodus teachers, youth, and community is an honor and inspiration for her Warner School team.

“One will not find a more sincere commitment to youth anywhere,” explains Luehmann. “Our Sodus collaborators help us to see the incredible strengths of Sodus as a community and as a place. The science we do together intentionally celebrates and contributes to these strengths.”

The value of inquiry-based science education—or doing science to learn science—is affirmed as a solid method of teaching and learning throughout summer camp and the remainder of the 15-month science teacher preparation program, known as the Get Real! Science Program, which the Get Real! Science Sustainability Camp is part of. The Get Real! Science Program is grounded in authentic experiences that include the annual summer camp, Science STARS (Students Tackling Authentic and Relevant Science) program, and more. Learn more about the Warner School’s programs preparing science teachers.

Learn more about the Sodus Sustainability Challenge and follow the students’ progress at the virtual summer camp: