Instead of spending the summer morning sleeping, a group of high school students inspected, tested and traded a hodgepodge of items during an experiment at the Summer Accelerated Math [and science] Camp (SAMC), sponsored by the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute (UEI). As part of the month-long camp devoted to math and science, students were testing the PH-levels of common household items including Windex, lemonade, baking soda and laundry detergent while charting the acidity levels on a continuum from “basic” to “extremely acidic.”
UEI’s University of Chicago Charter School students mixed with scholars from the Urban Prep and Perspectives charter networks, as a University of Chicago Urban Teacher Education Program (UChicago UTEP is a 2-year MA degree granting program) resident taught the lesson. The experiments made for lively conversation. One student was inspired to consider acid rain and its effect on the environment, which led to a fruitful discussion about how rising PH levels from pollution can affect the ecosystem and the food chain.
UChicago UTEP resident Caitlin Bonham commented to her class, “Acid rain can be a real problem. There’s a lake in New York that has a PH-level of 4.2.” After a collective gasp from the audience, she continued, “This level of acidity makes it impossible to sustain the life that would normally reside there.”
Intently watching the experiments and developing conversations, Vande Vusse, chair of the science department at Urban Prep Englewood Campus, said, “I am so impressed by the Urban Teacher Education Program residents who have been leading this camp. They know how to engage students. They are really great, and go into the teaching profession with their eyes wide open. The level of preparation is wonderful.”
Across the hall from Bonham’s class, younger students (7-9th grade) were group problem solving a mathematics puzzle with other UChicago UTEP residents and instructors. One of the camp interns, and a former camper, L’tajah Dixon, explained why she got involved with SAMC.
“When I was younger, my teacher told me about the camp and encouraged me to take part. At first, I didn’t want to at all. I wasn’t sure I would enjoy learning about science and math more than having my summer freedom,” said Dixon who just graduated from Perspectives Calumet. “She convinced me to do it. Since then, I have been a part of the camp every year. It’s a great opportunity to explore deeper math than in the classroom. It’s more hands on, with more use of technology and learning games. I’ve learned a lot.”
SAMC is free to participants. Students learn to use mathematics, logic, biology, and the life sciences to deepen their technical knowledge and interest. The program combines classroom instruction, group work, and field research (with visits to the Indiana Dunes and the Warren Woods in Michigan). At the close of the camp, students give presentations on projects they have developed throughout the month. This year, mathematics topics include linear, quadratic, and exponential patterns and polynomial patterns that can be analyzed using finite differences. On the science side, presentations were made on plant and animal biodiversity, as well as ecology and sustainability. Field research was conducted at Jackson Park and the Indiana Dunes.
Doug O’Roark, director of Secondary Math and Biology at UChicago UTEP, said, “The camp gives kids a chance to explore deep problems and to demonstrate persistence in the face of a challenge. At the same time, the lead teachers and UChicago UTEP residents are given extended time to reflect on their practice in a manner not often feasible during the regular school year."