Hudson Tuckerman never imagined slicing up rocks or making synthetic snot during summer camp, but that’s exactly what he’s doing this year.
The sixth-grader from Bozeman is one of 72 middle-school students increasing their knowledge of science at the Peaks & Potentials Camp at Montana State University this week.
In the Polar Explorer class Tuckerman attended Monday, he and the other 14 kids were welcomed by their instructor, Susan Kelly, a science education specialist with a master’s degree in geology.
In her introduction to the unique properties of water, Kelly asked the children to see how many droplets could fit on a penny before they spilled.
And it’s more than they thought. Before they could even put down their eyedroppers, the young scientists excitedly reported the results of their experiment: 22, 65, 87, 125!
“I only got 37,” said Malea Coleman, an 11-year-old from Livingston. “But it’s hard because not all the drops are the same size.”
Next the students played Ice Bingo by asking each other if they’d ever made a snowman, heard ice cracking, or froze their tongues to an ice cube.
Each question corresponded to an ice-related fact. For example, water uniquely expands when cooled.
When Kelly announced her plans for the next day’s class on penguins, the class erupted. “Are we going to do experiments on penguins?” asked a student. “Because that would be sort of sad.”
Kelly’s answer was no, but the students were even more excited when Kelly said she would be bringing in a model of a penguin skull.
Kelly wants to connect the children to the fascinating world of polar research by also teaching them about life forms an MSU team discovered in a subglacial lake beneath an Antarctic ice sheet.
“Getting them at this age is great because they’re excited about everything,” said Tristy Vick-Majors, an MSU doctoral student in microbiology who joined Kelly as an expert guest.
Kelly and Vick-Majors visited Antarctica on several scientific expeditions where they drilled through thousands of feet of ice to discover microbial life in the sea below.
“It was an important discovery, and hopefully I will be teaching these kids about it again when they go to university,” said Vick-Majors.
The students in Kelly’s workshop will also being participating in hands-on activities about polar bears, seals and tour MSU’s subzero laboratory.
“Research shows we have to get children interested in science at an early age,” said Kelly. “If we don’t, they probably won’t be interested in high school.”
The Extended University Office of Continuing Education organized Peaks & Potentials. It’s the 30th year the program has been at MSU, said Nicole Soll, a program manager in MSU’s Extended University office.
“The program allows the students to build their own schedule,” said Soll. “And we organize evening activities like bowling and swimming.”
Other workshops the children chose from offer exposure to art, astronomy, biology and chemistry. And more than a quarter of the students stay in MSU’s dorms during the camp.
The workshops are taught by MSU faculty, graduate students and experienced professionals.
“These kids like learning and they’ve performed well in the traditional classroom,” Soll said. “So we consider them high-potential and the program gives them an opportunity to continue advancing.”