A Quest to Improve Local Beaches: Freedom School Students, Future Teachers Tackle Real Problems through Science

Get Real Science campers and teachers at Lake OntarioFeet in the hot sand, sunny weather, and time at the lake—it’s an ideal way to spend summer vacation. But, to some Rochester-area teens it’s not a typical vacation, rather a chance to learn why beach closures continue to be an ongoing problem locally through a week-long summer science camp sponsored by the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education.
More than 30 city school students from Rochester’s NEAD Freedom School, a literacy school offering summer classes to children in distressed neighborhoods, will take part in this summer’s Get Real! Science Camp, running July 30 to August 6 on River Campus. The camp, which is led by graduate students who are studying to become science teachers at the Warner School, will take city students to Ontario Beach Park to engage in science investigations of Lake Ontario’s water quality issues.    
This summer has been the worst summer on record with Ontario Beach closed to swimming more days than opened.
Josephy Henderson“The camp is meant to get teens interested in science by tackling authentic science problems outside the classroom,” says Camp Director Joseph Henderson, a Warner doctoral student studying teaching and curriculum, with a focus on sustainability. “We design the camp to offer authentic learning experiences in science that engage students and encourage them to think and be more like scientists. It gets them to dig deeper into science by asking questions, making hypotheses, and creating meaningful results to a relevant problem in their own community and learn what can be done to prevent future beach closings.”
In addition to inspiring teens through these hands-on experiments, master’s students, studying science education at Warner and leading the summer camp, are transformed by their capacity to serve as creative science educators. The camp will support these soon-be science teachers in learning a new way of teaching science while honing their skills as science educators.
Created eight years ago by April Luehmann, associate professor at the Warner School, the Get Real! Science Camp seeks to move the teaching of science away from merely presenting a bunch of facts to a more authentic, inquiry-based science instruction that makes science exciting and meaningful for students.
For many graduate students, like Aaron Ditty, summer camp will be their first real teaching experience. In addition, they will have the opportunity to write their very first lesson plans with the goal of engaging students in real science.
“I hope to gain the knowledge, experience, and tools to become a great teacher,” says Ditty, a former engineer who is now pursuing his master’s in physics education. “Through my career as an engineer, I know what it looks like to be involved in product design and science. What I hope to gain from this experience is a bridge between my own experiences and an opportunity to create meaningful strategies for teaching—in other words, learning how to apply what I already know to the classroom.”
Brianna Wilkinson, a master’s student in biology education, hopes to gain a dual understanding of science teaching. “I want to know the theory and reasoning behind different approaches, but also see how they are applied in the everyday teaching setting,” says Wilkinson, who also is eager to learn more about science communication and constructing science discourse with students.
Get Real! Science teacher working with campersThe teens, with guidance from these future science teachers, will spend two days at the lakeshore collecting water samples and will then perform several tests in laboratories on the University of Rochester’s River Campus to determine water quality variables, like pH balance, dissolved oxygen levels, bacteria and algae, temperature, and turbidity. Students will then present their findings about the water quality to the community and share recommendations for improving the current beach conditions on the camp’s last day, August 6, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., at the Freedom School. (The event is free and open to the public.)
Ditty, who strives to become a teacher who creates the space for students to explore science in an authentic and engaging way, wants to see kids leaving camp excited about science.
“More than anything, I would like them to leave having had a real experience being a scientist, getting their hands dirty, investigating questions about the beach, and coming to their own conclusions about what is going on at Ontario Beach,” Ditty explains. “After camp, if some students come away knowing that science is a real possibility for their future then I think we are going to be successful.”
Wilkinson’s goal is to help students come away from camp with a positive image of science as something they can be a part of. “For me, part of the fun of science is the struggle that comes before a breakthrough,” she explains. “I want the campers to experience this same combination of challenge and satisfaction. That’s the kind of experience that will be memorable and keep them interested in science.”
According to Ditty, new discoveries are being made all the time and science is being used every day to look at and solve real-world problems. “Engaging teens in authentic problems, specifically problems in their own neighborhood or city, will show them that science is taking place all around them,” adds Ditty, whose high school science teachers inspired and impacted him to become a teacher someday.
The value of inquiry-based 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 Project, which the Get Real! Science Camp is part of. The Get Real! Science Project is grounded in authentic experiences that include the summer Get Real! Science Camp, Science STARS (Students Tackling Authentic and Relevant Science) program, and more.

Tags: April Luehmann, Get Real! Environmental Action Camp, science, Science STARS, teacher preparation, teaching and curriculum