STEM + Fun = ExploreHope

Throughout the weeks of June and July, the halls of Schaap Science Center bubbled with activity as hundreds of children excitedly chattered about newfound lessons as they clutched goodie bags full of goofy but cool science projects. This summer marked the 20th year of Hope College’s annual ExploreHope camps, hands-on workshops meant to stimulate love and learning  for youngsters in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and while ExploreHope promises kids a great time, it also provides an outstanding experience for Hope students who use their knowledge and leadership as ExploreHope staffers. With this unique opportunity, Hope students get to flex their creative and scientific muscles and share their enthusiasm for all-things STEM.

With this unique opportunity, Hope students get to flex their creative and scientific muscles and share their enthusiasm for all-things STEM.

In July, I talked to Hope junior Elizabeth Woodford who served on the ExploreHope staff this summer. Elizabeth is pursuing a bachelor of science degree in chemistry with a biochemistry emphasis, with minors in English and neuroscience as well so she’s quite qualified to teach a variety of different subjects. Plus, she loves getting kids, especially high schoolers, passionate about the sciences.

“I hope the kids have as much fun in the labs as I do,” said Elizabeth. “Sometimes I think I may be more excited to get to do some of these experiments and demos than my kids actually are.”

“Also, getting to write experimental design with my coworker Mimi Stalls was a lot of fun, too,” Elizabeth added. 

Any given day at ExploreHope is bustling with hands-on learning. The 50+ camps typically run in three-hour time blocks in either the morning or afternoon, with a few all-day camps thrown into the mix. The teachers, or counselors, lead the kids through entertaining and engaging activities. Those activities are designed to explain a particular field of science as well as to get kids — elementary to high school — excited about that field. New camps are created each year, too  —  Tinker(bell) Engineering and Experimental Design being the newest addition in 2017 — meaning there is something STEM for every camper.

While younger kids focused on science basics, high school camps are more oriented toward preparing the participants for college-level science classes, specifically labs. They conduct actual experiments and, in the end, walk away with experience and knowledge under their belts, making them better prepared for their freshman science classes when they reach college.

The children watch their Hope teacher blow on a wok containing the nitrogen, then “ooh” and “ahh” as they see the teacher’s breath create a cloud of ice crystals.

So, what’s the crowd favorite at the camps? According to Elizabeth, it’s the liquid nitrogen and dry ice demo. In this experiment, the teacher shows the campers how sublimation works through dry ice, along with the freezing ability of liquid nitrogen. The children watch the teacher blow on a wok containing the nitrogen, then “ooh” and “ahh” as they see the teacher’s breath create a cloud of ice crystals. The children are also stunned when their Hope teacher freezes a banana using liquid nitrogen and then hammers a nail into a piece a wood with the frozen fruit. (That would stun me too!)

Other popular activities at ExploreHope include field trips to the veterinarian, creating slimes and polymers, building lego robots, and performing flame tests on powders. When the week draws to a close, campers leave with a packet that reviews everything they did that week — including directions to redo some of the experiments at home (except the one with flames involved!).

Overall, ExploreHope is a formative opportunity for any kid — elementary to college —  to play with slime, “blow” things up,  or even design their own labs. In general, learning and loving science is what ExploreHope is all about.

Read more about ExploreHope camps on the Hope website and in The Holland Sentinel story.