The professors keep things light and entertaining.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — It was storytime this past week at Williams College.
But the rising fifth- and sixth-graders at the college's Summer Science Lab were not being told stories. They were challenged to make up stories.
As part of the weeklong day camp, campers were assigned each night to think about a phenomenon observed in class and develop a "story" that might explain it.
On Thursday morning, the observation involved the mixing of a yellow liquid and a blue liquid to make a green one.
After talking with the three dozen youngsters sitting at lab tables in the college's Morley Science Lab, professor Dave Richardson narrowed things down to two prevailing theories: that a chemical reaction took place between the two liquids or that the substances were unchanged chemically but the yellow and blue molecules mixed together to "fool" the eye into seeing green.
"How many like that story?" Richardson said, asking for a show of hands. "So, which story is right? ... They both could be right, but usually, in science, it doesn't work that way. We either had a chemical reaction or we're getting a jumble.
"How many people think we should just vote? How many people think the chemical reaction people should win this vote? How many people think the mixing of blue and yellow jumble, that that idea should win?
"Is this how we do it in science? We just hold an election?"
No, they test, and they experiment, and that is just what the science campers get to do.
For two one-week sessions each July, Richardson and Charles "Chip" Lovett break down complex scientific concepts like — on this day — polarity, pH and the nature of chemical bonds into language the elementary-age pupils can understand.
According to the camp's co-director, Hawlemont teacher Stephen Bechtel, the 20-year-old camp is attracting children from a wider geographic range than ever. This year's sessions, held July 9-13 and 16-20, include kids from Florida, Adams, North Adams, Lee, Washington and a significant number from Pittsfield.
This year, the college for the first time offered bus transportation to make it easier for some students, and there are need-based scholarships available to defray the program's $250 registration fee.
The campers receive a morning of demonstration and interactive lectures from the two Williams profs, and in the afternoon the kids go into the lab under the watchful eyes of college students to work through the same concepts.
And on Thursday of each week, families of campers are invited to an evening potluck supper after which the campers take their turns as "professors," discussing some of the concepts they've talked about and experiments they have performed at camp.
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