Aug 05, 2014 Allie Wenner Uncategorized
It’s not very common to find a public library that offers a week-long summer camp experience for kids. But the Fayetteville Free Library did just that from July 28 through Aug. 1, when it offered the first ever “Geek Girl Camp” for Central New York girls.
The camp, which was open to any girl in the Syracuse area entering third through fifth grade in the fall, was held to encourage girls to get excited and interested in science and technology, said Leah Kraus, director of community engagement and experience and a camp counselor at the FFL.
“It’s a way to get girls excited about geeking out – making “geek” cool, making STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] cool, making it approachable and making it exciting,” Kraus said. “We want the girls to understand that a geek isn’t just some nerdy guy sitting at a computer all day. Geeks can also be girls, and it can be fun to be a geek and that STEM is something girls can make a career out of.”
Throughout the week, the girls participated in a number of hands-on activities, including: experimenting with snap circuits while learning about electricity, learning the basics of computer programming through a kid-friendly program called Scratch, building trebuchets and launched water balloons while learning about physics concepts and experimenting with marshmallow peeps to learn the scientific method.
“My favorite thing we did is the oobleck – it’s water and corn starch and it’s mixed together,” said Lilah Poole, 9, of Fayetteville. “And if you jab it, it gets really hard and acts like a sold, but if you just dip your fingers in it, it acts like a liquid. So we tried to run across a pool with oobleck without sinking.”
What sets Geek Girl Camp apart from other science camps is the community building that took place on the library grounds during those five days. Not only is the FFL building a community within the girls who attended the camp, but it was able to either bring in or Skype with a different speaker every day who works in a STEM field. Guest speakers included a woman who works for Facebook, a web developer and a SUNY ESF professor who researches human deforestation in Senegal.
“They’re meeting role models and people that they can follow up with and aspire to be like,” Kraus said. “I think it’s given the girls an example of, ‘Well, if you like these experiments, here is how you can move forward with that and keep doing it throughout your life and make a great career out of it.”
Poole said that the guest speakers in particular motivated her to encourage other girls to get interested in STEM.
“Listening to all of these people talking, I’m inspired to do something,” Poole said. “I like technology and I want to get a job in [the field], and I want to tell other girls, ‘You could have a career in technology one day and change the world.’”
Almost all STEM summer camps are targeted towards kids entering sixth grade and higher, said FFL director of family engagement and camp counselor Meredith Levine. Geek Girl Camp was purposely set up for younger girls who haven’t yet learned the basics about biology or chemistry.
“You have more time as a kid to pursue your interests and have fun around a topic that you think is cool and you want to learn more about,” Levine said. “And you have more free time to spend on those interests. When you’re in middle or high school, you’re kind of already in your track; maybe you’re an athlete, or you play an instrument, or you’re in drama. If we start them in elementary school, they’re already interested in science and are more likely to stay on that path to science.”
Geek Girl Camp was entirely developed, planned and run by FFL staff members. The idea came as a part of the library’s support for new literacies, including STEM literacy and digital literacy. The FFL offers programs year-round to support these new types of literacies, and a STEM summer camp was the next logical step in the process, Kraus said.
“We have a goal of supporting and empowering girls in the community,” Kraus said. “And we have [STEM] clubs, like LEGO Robotics Club, that meet all the time, a lot of times we see more males interested in certain things. So why not try to level the playing field and let the girls know that it is something for them and that they don’t have to be intimidated by it?”
The push for teaching STEM concepts is part of a nationwide effort to address the mounting concern about having enough scientists, engineers, mathematicians and people working in the technology industry to keep the United States at the forefront of research, innovation and technology.
“I want to invent something with technology – I want to change the world,” Poole said. “I want people to know my name and know that I did something helpful.”