July 15, 2008

Real World Science for Students at YPG Day Camp

By William Roller, The Sun, Yuma, Ariz.

Jul. 15--A fun summer school program that demonstrates the importance of science and how it applies to the real world has dozens of Yuma children eager to learn, according to one of its facilitators.

Fast Track Science Day Camp conducts classes at Yuma Proving Ground's Heritage Center under the auspices of the National Science Center of Augusta, Ga., and in partnership with Yuma Elementary School District 1.

The program is open to all Yuma County schools but is a rigorous curriculum geared to high achievers. Last week 20 fourth- and fifth-grade students went to the first session, while this week 26 sixth-, seventh- and eighth graders are attending.

"The kids love it and it's great to see the excitement," said Bill Heidner, curator of Heritage. "Last year was our beta test year and it went very well. The lesson we learned from last year was not to mix the two age groups."

Fast Track trains students in making calculations and using the scientific method on model cars to achieve optimal speed for track conditions, said Kimberla Grant, one of two program instructors. Grant will teach fifth grade at Otondo School in the fall.

Each day they change the track layout. Students must adjust the weight of the cars so they stay on the track and use a formula to calculate the optimal speed.

Some students think just because they go fast, they will win, yet a heavier car will sometimes prevail, Grant cautioned.

"They think speed is everything. That's when they're tweaking the weights which can make a great an impact as the driver. Also, energy is another variable we factor in. On day five, they get fresh batteries."

Students try to get in eight to 10 runs around the track each day. Each person in the four-member teams rotates between being a driver and figuring the proper calculations.

That way they learn all the functions and don't just pick the task they prefer. They also must factor in mistakes, which can be difficult for some, noted Grant.

"That can be the hardest one to learn for high achievers. They have high expectations and they must allow for human error in themselves."

Fast Track was originally scheduled for four weeks but was reduced to two for a lack of students. The National Science Center requires at least 18 per class.

Although Grant informed every teacher at her school about the program and fliers were handed out to students, she would like to see school districts in the county take a more proactive effort to promote this program for what she said is as valuable as traditional class.

Celeste Grant, 14, of Woodard Junior High, said she liked how the teams learned to work together. "All the formulas we learned will help a lot for school and prepare you for the future."

Max Williams, 11, an Otondo student, said he actually wanted to go to summer school because he heard from friends how much fun it was.

"I think it was very useful to learn how to average numbers," Max said. "I recommended this to a lot of friends who came this year."

Student experiments actually mimic methods used at YPG to test military vehicles, Heidner noted. Also, Heritage provides presentations for students by YPG engineers, biologists and archaeologists.

Fast Track is open the public, and classes cost $200 per student. This year there were nine paid students, while District 1 sponsored 20 scholarships and Heritage provided 15 more. Classes next year are planned for four weeks.

Last year, students were given tests before and after the course to gauge their progress. On the pre-test, 30 percent of students tested for correct answers, compared to 80 to 90 percent on the post-test.

"We focus on engineering," said Heidner, "but we want to stress the interdisciplinary aspect of all the sciences. As Yuma becomes more of a science hub, we want to spark that interest and develop home-grown engineers."


William Roller can be reached at [email protected] or 539-6858.


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