In response to studies showing that middle school and high school students progressively lose interest in STEM topics, IPFW departments began developing summer math and science camp programs to help increase an interest in these areas. When Professor Mark Masters (physics) inherited the Math & Science camp, he also added others that, according to Associate Professor Gang Wang (physics), “offer a fun environment to stimulate kids’ interest in science.”
The original Math & Science camp was created more than sixteen years ago for middle-school-aged children. Each year, the camp centers around a main project: hot air balloons, pine wood race cars, or water rockets. This year was hot air balloons. Campers studied buoyancy as they created multi-colored hot air balloons that they launched over campus. Other fun camp activities included building Lego robots fitted with optic sensors that campers programmed to navigate mazes and follow commands.
Seven years ago, Masters created a physics camp for high schoolers in response to a local shortage of physics teachers and classes. Campers learn advanced physics concepts through the camp activities, and as with the Math & Science camp, the Physics camp has a central project each year, usually related to light, lasers, optics, or astronomy. This summer, the campers learned about spectronomy and astronomy by building portable shoebox spectrometers (instruments that measure the properties of light). They also created telescopes for daytime sun and moon observation and exploring light refractions.
New to this year’s schedule, the Smarty Pants Camp was created by senior physics major Danielle Bishop. Bishop noticed the lack of female participants in the Math & Science camp and the interest seven- to ten-year-old girls showed in the sciences, so she thought that a camp for younger children might help. “We have three days of activities, with three fun themes. The first day we have ‘Why do rainbows form on bubbles?’; the second, ‘Why do things fall over?’; and the third, ‘How do lightbulbs work?’”
Although the camps are entertaining, as physics instructor Jacob Millspaw notes, the real emphasis is on learning: “Often camps revolve around building things. Follow some instructions and at the end you have a device, but you do not know how or why that device works. The fundamental backbone of science is that understanding. It is important to incorporate conceptual understanding of the topics involved in all of the activities of the camps.” And the excitement displayed by campers as they watched their balloons soar into the sky indicated that the department has successfully created an educational experience within a fun environment.
To learn more about the physics department and summer camps, contact the physics department.