This summer, campers attending Cradle Beach have the opportunity to be scientists for a day. A Buffalo State team, led by Cathy Lange, associate professor of earth sciences and science education, developed the curricula.
“We offer our campers a choice of activity stations, and this year one of them will be science-oriented,” said Cheri Alvarez, chief operating officer of Cradle Beach. “We wanted to show the kids that science is all around us, so we approached Buffalo State last fall about developing a science education program that would meet the needs of our campers.”
Cradle Beach serves children with disabilities and children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. “Some of our campers have special needs that include mobility issues or a diagnosis on the autism spectrum,” said Alvarez. “For others, Cradle Beach introduces ideas and activities they might not experience otherwise.”
For this diverse group of campers, the Buffalo State team developed a curriculum around the concept of “Scientist for a Day.” Besides Lange, the team included Donald Birdd, professor emeritus of earth sciences and science education, Michele Parente, instructional support specialist, and Jennifer Pigeon, ’13, who has served as a summer camp counselor for the Smithsonian Institution. Developing out-of-classroom science education—known as informal science education by the National Science Foundation—was the focus of Pigeon’s master’s program.
“We are offering activities such as biologist for a day, engineer for a day, or botanist for a day,” said Pigeon. “The idea is for campers to go out into the field and do what a practicing scientist would do. For example, they might take water samples from different parts of a stream and use test kits to test the water quality.”
Pigeon trained the camp counselors on how to implement the curricula; Parente is providing administrative support over the summer.
Dan MacIsaac, associate professor of physics and co-PI on a $9.8 million Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership (ISEP) grant from the National Science Foundation, helped to procure funding for equipment for the activities. Campers include students from several Buffalo Public Schools who are involved in the ISEP grant.
Members of the Buffalo State team attended the Open House held at Cradle Beach in June to demonstrate the ideas they had developed. Debora Frank, a student preparing to become a biology teacher, was among them. She said, “I am fascinated by living things, and I am inspired to teach to pass along my enthusiasm. The Cradle Beach experience was great because the kids were young, eager to take part in the activities, and interested in learning more. I was surprised to find the parents were interested in learning about science too!”
Alvarez said the activities presented at the Open House were popular. “It was amazing,” she said. “Some kids just wanted to stay at the science building. We hope that, by introducing campers to the world of science, we open up the possibility of science careers. This would not have been possible to do without our partnership with Buffalo State, and the energy and passion they bring to the project. We are extremely grateful.”