The mass of the Higgs Boson, the landmark significance of the Chicago Skyway, and everyone’s favorite invasive species—even before reaching the Indiana Dunes where they would lead students in summer science exploration, the Urban Teacher Education Program (UChicago UTEP) candidates were busy sharing knowledge and asking questions in an environment of constant inquiry.
For the fifth year of the Urban Education Institute’s summer accelerated Science and Math Camp (SAMC)—a free enrichment program open to 7th through 12th grade students around Chicago—veteran teacher coaches and UChicago UTEP candidates made the Indiana Dunes their classroom to engage students in plant biology, body systems, geometry, and algebra. Students from the University of Chicago Charter School and from the Urban Prep and Perspectives charter networks worked through “frustration-by-design” math problems and conducted self-designed science experiments, putting test subjects through forest mazes to gauge human stress-response, calculating tree height with homemade clinometers, as well as running, jumping, and data-collecting in the sweltering summer sun.
Bill Schmit, one of 18 UChicago UTEP teachers guiding SAMC students through their field experiments, filled his group in on non-Newtonian solids as they trudged through sand to collect plant data. Bill says he considered becoming a math researcher for “about five minutes,” but always expected there would be teaching somewhere in his life. Cameron Martin, hailing from Kentucky and Emory University in Atlanta, says he never considered teaching until his university colleagues told him he had a knack for explanation. He chose to change paths at a difficult time in his life, but settled staunchly into his new position. Cameron says, “People often ask me, ‘Why do you want to work with high school students? It’s too late by then.’ I want to work with high school students because everyone else seems to think it’s too late.”
“They inspire me,” says LaVerne Wright of the UChicago UTEP candidates. The science department chair at the UChicago Charter School Woodlawn Campus, LaVerne spearheaded the science component of SAMC and has been with the program for four years.
“I love working with the UChicago UTEP interns and with Jeanette [UTEP’s biology course field instructor]. And, of course, the kids! The kids want to keep coming back after day one. On day one they already say, ‘I want to come back next year’.”
A SAMC alum and rising senior at Perspectives Joslin, Aaron Easton came back to SAMC as a camp student twice and for a third time this year as a program intern.
“SAMC really makes you do a lot of critical thinking,” Aaron says, as he explains why he applied to the internship. “In the math camp, they won’t tell you anything about how to solve the problems! It’s so frustrating, but then that moment when you figure it out and you finally get it? It’s amazing. I wanted to come back to help out and see other students having those moments. It’s the environment, the environment is great.”
In that environment of inquiry, students presented their experimental findings and completed math projects, fielding tough questions from peers and educators on the last day of the program. Douglas O’Roark, UChicago UTEP secondary pathway director and director of the camp, sent students and teachers off with a few final words concluding SAMC 2012.
“As teachers, the best thing is to walk around looking at student work and seeing projects we didn’t even think of. Then we call it something like ‘Destiny’s Problem,’ or ‘Brian’s Problem’ or ‘Anthony’s Problem’ and want to make it part of the camp every year. Those are really the ideal students to work with — so thank you all, for being ideal students.”