Science of summer camp

Jun. 21, 2013 @ 05:17 PM

Friday found Maureen Walker and Wendy Frandsen helping a group of middle school students make terrariums.

They are English instructors at Vance-Granville Community College. So what are they doing on a science project?

They are two of a number of college staff members volunteered their time and talents to assist with the VGCC Science Camp.

Steve McGrady, chairman of the Science Department, coordinated the third-year camp. It is designed to introduce middle school students to a number of science concepts.

But it’s not science in the abstract. During their five days on campus the students have built AM radios and bird feeders; done DNA fingerprinting; looked for fossils, gems and minerals; launched rockets; studied sharks; investigated the human brain; and learned techniques for investigating a crime scene.

In that project on terrariums, each student made a terrarium in a small bowl area, the bottom of a soda bottle. When they were finished, Walker helped them tape the upper portion of a soda bottle to the lower portion to make a self-enclosed terrarium.

“You can take the tape off when you get home, if you wish,” she said. “If it gets really tall you can transplant it in your garden.”

She instructed them to water their plants.

“What else do they need besides water?” she asked. The response from the students came in a chorus: “Sunlight.”

Jace Johnson, who will attend Falls Lake Academy this fall, and Joseph Calus, a Hawley Middle School student, worked together on their terrariums. Calus said he would take his home and take care of it.

“Hopefully, it will live,” he said.

Johnson agreed and added that if his didn’t live, “I’ll recycle it.”

Dayna Mitchell, Bryan Perry and Ashad Jefferson, students at Henderson Collegiate, put the finishing touches on their terrariums. Mitchell said she would put her terrarium in her room and “watch it grow.”

In a classroom down the hall, Phil Mondou, a biology instructor, directed students as they tested enzymes in yeast by pouring hydrogen peroxide on it and recording the results.

“You all saw an enzyme reaction,” he said.

He described the functions of enzymes in our bodies, including the digestive system.

“When we have lunch today, think about what all those enzymes are doing for you,” he said.

Button Brady, a science instructor, said the camp had participation of instructors from every department. Their pay? A monogrammed, collared tee shirt and a hamburger at the cookout on the final day of the camp.

Enrollment has grown from 29 students in the first year to 32 last year and 41 this year. They come from all four counties served by Vance-Granville.

The science camp has grown to be a college-wide endeavor.

“We have more than 20 faculty members from all different divisions,” McGrady said.

Four students from previous camps who have “aged out” returned as unpaid assistants. McGrady said, “They came back to help us anyway.”

McGrady said these young students compare favorably with the freshmen the college receives each year.

“They come ready to learn.”

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.