Environmental Factor, September 2006, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
NIEHS Volunteers Support Delta Sisters' Science Day Camp
By Eddy Ball
Thanks to members of the NIEHS Science Education Committee (SEC) and other NIEHS volunteers, along with the Durham Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, 39 area African-American children between the ages of 5 and 13 had an opportunity to experience the fun side of science and mathematics this summer at a special free event. On July 15, the Durham Alumnae Chapter held the first Annual Durham Science and Everyday Experiences (SEE) Science Day Camp, "Blast into Scientific Exploration for the 21st Century," at the Durham Alumnae Delta House.
NIEHS provided activity materials and volunteer participation, while the Burroughs Wellcome Fund contributed financial support for the event. SEE is a national effort initiated among the 435 chapters of Delta Sigma Theta by a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation. Like other SEE events throughout the country, this summer's camp in Durham brought science and math to life for children as volunteer instructors combined humor and novelty with the mystique surrounding the tools of science.
Campers in grades K-3 were involved in three hands-on sessions: "Genetic Inheritance and Family Traits," "Healthy Heart" and "How to Filter Indoor Air Pollution Using Air Purifying Plants." In the first session, students engaged in activities to help them understand that the way they look is determined by their genes and that genes hold the instructions their bodies follow to shape features and traits. The lesson on genetic traits allowed students to make their own genetic inheritance bracelets, combining different colored beads to represent genetic characteristics. The second session included "Find Your Heart Quick" and "Smile for Physical Activity." Students learned about their hearts and how to keep them healthy. They were able to view, remove and manipulate the heart and other organs of a full-scale anatomical model. Indoor air pollution was the topic of a session on environmental health, and students learned that the quality of the air inside homes, schools and workplaces is important to health and that certain plants, such as the spider plant, can filter harmful pollutants from indoor air.
Students in the fourth to sixth grade group participated in six to eight different activities. They used pieces of string cut to their height for a practical lesson in ratio and perspective, witnessed firsthand the differences in diffusion as they mixed food color with oil, vinegar and water, and felt for themselves the way manipulation of air pressure can alter the demands of lifting and moving objects. They also engaged in the "Guess the Object Games,"
"12 Spot," "Better Buy" and "Air Pressure Power." In the "12 Spot" activity, exposure to different physical stressors taught campers what types of stressors cause an individual to work slower or faster. In the "Better Buy" exercise, students used simple multiplication and division to calculate unit price and determine the better buy among items at a market. Using something as simple as a ruler and newspaper, campers observed how air exerts pressure on its surroundings because it has weight and mass.
The seventh and eighth grade students participated in learning modules sponsored by IBM, the UNC Destiny Program and City of Durham. These activities involved learning about robotics, genetics and molecular biology. In one session, for example, the teenagers extracted DNA from their cheek cells and then placed that DNA into glass vials, which they used in making their own DNA necklaces, a string of colored beads representing genetic traits. In addition, they engaged in a science scavenger hunt, participated in a demonstration about water pollution, learned how water is treated and, finally, learned how to write a computer program. All of these activities offered campers the opportunity to witness the workings of science and math in their everyday lives.
According to Sharon Beard, NIEHS Industrial Hygienist and chairperson of the Delta committee in charge of the event, "The purpose of the camp is to help young people explore science and math in everyday age-appropriate activities. SEE is informal education to help kids discover their talents in science and mathematics and to help them figure out how to channel those talents." SEE connected the campers with several different types of scientists who can mentor and serve as role models. The success of this year's event ensures that this camp will continue as an annual event, one that organizers hope will serve a growing number of children in years to come.
Along with Beard, NIEHS Program Director Joan Packenham co-chaired the committee in charge of organizing the event. Beard, Packenham and NIEHS Director of Education and Biomedical Research Development Marian Johnson-Thompson performed initial planning of the camp and worked closely with other NIEHS volunteers, including Undi Hoffler, Elena Braithwaite, Mark Melton, and Marva Wood. SEC Chair Liam O'Fallon also came out on the day of the event to volunteer. The SEC realizes that one way to effectively engage in local outreach efforts is to collaborate with community organizations, and the Science Day Camp demonstrated how this can be accomplished. In addition to the impressive NIEHS contribution and participation by UNC's Lenis Chin and City of Durham's Vickie Westbrook, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Delta Research & Educational Foundation, Thomas Johnson Catering and Fisher Funeral Home supported the event.
Delta Sigma Theta, a service-oriented sorority, was founded in 1913 at Howard University and is dedicated to promoting academic excellence and to providing assistance to persons in need. The Durham Alumnae Chapter was organized in 1931 and, like its sister chapters, emphasizes educational development through a range of programs as an important component of the organization's mission.
For more information about SEE and other Delta programs, contact Sharon Beard or Joan Packenham.
Visit the chapter's web site. To participate in or learn more about the NIEHS SEC's community service activities, contact Chair Liam O'Fallon. Visit the committee's web page.