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Kids learn value of science in real life problem-solving labs

The Girl Scouts rely their interactive space called Journey World teach girls about science math engineering environment nature. Scout members

The Girl Scouts rely on their interactive space, called Journey World, to teach girls about science, math, engineering, the environment and nature. Scout members, Zoe Lo, 10, (left), Emily Adamson, 11, and Liani Chan, 11, conduct scientific experiments during a field trip to Journey World, 770 N. Halsted St. in Chicago, on March 17, 2011. l Keith Hale~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 10, 2011 11:06PM



What’s emerging as the hottest way to get kids interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics?

Hands-on work and play.

The trend is gaining speed just in time for parents making plans to keep the kids busy this summer.

Local programs that take kids away from computers and into real-world problem-solving include the ASM Materials Camp for high school students in suburban Westmont, and Journey World, a cavernous learning space in a former industrial building at 770 N. Halsted in Chicago.

The ASM camp aims to excite high school students about science and engineering by asking them to solve crises that local companies had to resolve. Students may figure out why a parachute harness developed cracks and design a solution, or research how bolts started snapping when workers installed them in construction cranes.

“The camp gives students the ‘big picture’ of how they use science to solve problems,” said Jan Edwards, outreach chair for ASM International’s Chicago regional chapter. “They’re not solving equations; they’re using physics and chemistry to come up with real solutions.”

Students who are rising high school sophomores through seniors have until Monday to register for the free camp, which runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 20-24 and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 25 at Hooke College of Applied Sciences in Westmont. Go to asmchicago.org to download an application. Call (440) 338-5151, ext. 5533 or e-mail Jeane.deatherage@asminternational.org for more information.

The make-believe scenes and challenges of Journey World emphasize the merits of learning about science and technology by watching worms wiggle in a composting bin, designing a slingshot that can catapult an egg and fashioning a roller coaster that doesn’t catapult its riders.

Just ask Emily Adamson, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at the Web-based Chicago Virtual Charter School, who enjoys the fun of doing science experiments with other girls in her Girl Scout troop at Journey World.

“It’s a fun way of learning how things work,” said Adamson, whose team at Journey World was assigned to fashion a dance platform that lit up where the dancer stepped. The team’s resources comprised cardboard, lights, wires, duct tape and a battery pack.

“That was really hard, but it’s fun to be with your friends and figure out what crazy things we’ll do next,” Adamson said.

Journey World was formerly the site of Experiencia’s immersive learning programs. The Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana took over the operations in October 2009, and re-introduced the space for Girl Scouts and youth and school groups.

Journey World (JourneyWorld.org) offers 45 workshops, camps and overnight programs for young people ages 5-17. The programs cost $8 per child for up to three hours; $35 for an overnight session; $100 for a five-day camp, and custom-designed programs. Sponsors can pay for visits.

The centerpiece of the scientific learning is the Eco-Lab, where a mock cave, campground, prairie and lake ecosystem teach kids to figure out the consequences of a fire, a flood, an algae bloom and other simulated surprises. The situations are presented in complex ways, such as detailing the devastation that wildfires cause alongside information about such fires’ beneficial effects on certain wilderness areas, said local Girl Scouts CEO Maria Wynne.

Students at all-day events explore 30 types of scientific careers and work in teams on projects such as creating animal habitats that use solar and wind technologies and building a water-purification system to mitigate pollution.

Adamson’s peers in Girl Scout Troop 20752, which meets at South Loop Elementary School, say they enjoy the hands-on experiences, scientific experiments and close-up encounters with concepts that may help them in their careers.

“The science experiments teach us concepts like math and how an object’s density affects how fast it moves,” said Zoe Lo, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at South Loop Elementary School.

Amaya Lorick, another fifth-grader at South Loop school, thought it was cool when the troop slept under a starry sky fashioned out of overhead lights.

Liani Chan, an 11-year-old fifth-grader at South Loop school, wants to be a chef or cook, and she recognizes that learning math and science concepts will help her achieve her career goals.

She feels more confident about dealing with crises, too, after her team had to figure out how to rescue the Apollo 13 astronauts with a limited supply of materials.

The lessons are particularly relevant when Chicago students are scoring 12th of 17 large cities nationwide in science proficiency.

Rebecca Ng, troop leader for juniors and cadets, sees another important benefit of the girls’ visits.

“The girls can really shine without having to impress the boys by not seeming too smart,” Ng said. “It is all about the girls. We hope that some of the girls might go into science, technology, engineering or mathematics careers. It’s all about exposure at this age.”



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