Sunday, July 19, 2009

Rocket Balloons!

The other day I went to visit a summer camp for refugee and immigrant children. Their goals are to:
Improve the academic success and social behaviour of African children and youth;
Inspire children to stay in school and instill a desire to learn;
Increase awareness of career and post-secondary paths;
Inspire participants to believe in their potential through mentoring by culturally and age relevant role models and opportunities for progressive mastery of skills;
Increase participants' family and cultural connection and sense of cultural identity;
Encourage participants to make healthy life choices;
Provide participants with opportunities for leadership, decision making, collaborative experiences, teamwork, and networking with peers.
I am incredibly impressed with the dedication of the team of volunteers making this happen. I'm glad that our city sponsors programs like this, you really can't put a price on this type of experience.

One of the groups I volunteer with on campus was asked to come and do some science demos for the camps, and we were only too happy to oblige. We brought our rocket balloon kits to talk about air pressure, flight, Bernoulli's principle, and other wonderful things! Previously, the biggest group I did this demo for had sixteen students. This camp had one hundred! Even though we had tried to prepare for it, it was a bit of a logistics nightmare on our end and it took a while to get going.

When we finally got the rocket balloons shooting along, it was so cool to see what kind of designs the campers came up with. Their objective was to create two rocket balloons per group, one that would fly straight, the other that would twist as it travelled along the string. They came up with hypotheses and theories as to what would cause one behaviour or the other, then got to test them.

Compared to other groups I've done this demo with, these kids were really independent thinkers and came up with lots of variables and ideas to test. Kick butt! After they tested their rockets, they couldn't wait to go back and see how they could improve their results. It was really the best thing we could hope for from this type of activity, and there was a great post-activity discussion with lots of questions. Also, one group hoarded a bunch of tiny balloons and molded them into a rocket named (and shaped like) Megatron. I had to leave a bit early, but luckily my super demo partner was able to stay very late and conclude the discussions and other activities in the demonstration.

So in summary, I'd have to say:
-polite, enthusiastic, inquisitive campers!
-energetic, creative camp volunteers
-fun activity
-science WIN!

We will continue to visit the camp this summer, hopefully more prepared, and with more challenging cool science activities! This activity went well, but it's hard to provide something that's fun for the youngest kids while still challenging and interesting for the older ones. Next time we'll be presenting to smaller groups so that we can better target the information.

(Tank by artist Hans Hemmert)

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