KOKOMO, Ind. — The summer leading up to her eighth grade year, Sarah Reel knew she wanted to be a scientist — and that she wanted to earn her degree at Indiana University Kokomo.
Six years later Reel served as a teaching assistant at the camp that inspired her college and career choice, IU Kokomo’ Science Rocks! program for middle school students. She worked alongside faculty members, leading 12 Kokomo-area students in activities ranging from building and launching rockets, observing raptors, collecting water samples and observing them under a microscope, and monitoring their vital signs before and after exercise, among other activities.
Now a junior studying biological and physical sciences, Reel recalls being thrilled to attend an Observatory night, and receive a telescope, when she was a camper, and how it inspired her.
“I remember sitting with my friends, figuring out how to use the telescope, and looking at the stars,” she said. “I realized there’s so much out there we can study. I have to go explore it. Science Rocks! was one of the reasons I decided to go to IU Kokomo, and to major in sciences.”
Patrick Motl, associate professor of physics, leads the camp, and said middle school is a crucial age for interest in science. He hosts field trips in the Observatory during the year, and notices that elementary children are interested and full of questions, while those in high school often have little to say or ask.
“Middle school is a transition period for kids who are interested in science,” he said. “With our camp, we hope there might be something that sparks for them, so they stick with science. We want them to know when they get to the upper grade levels, if they stay with it, they will get to do more cool stuff in science.
“We want them to have fun, make some new friends, and find encouragement to continue with science.”
Activities were chosen based on faculty expertise and interest, he said, and covered a wide variety of topics including chemistry, biochemistry, physics, physiology, ornithology, microbiology, and math.
One of the days, Lina Rifai, associate professor of vertebrate biology, led students in kick netting in the stream that runs along the campus, collecting specimens to get an idea of what lives in the water. They visited with a raptor specialist and his birds, and then built bluebird boxes, which Rifai hopes to place in area parks.
Central Middle School seventh graders Ilana Hossain and Aramaea Fivecoate worked together to build their bluebird house, carefully screwing the pieces together and placing the lid on to keep water out.
Fivecoate said she was surprised at how clean the water was, and she enjoyed seeing what kinds of macroinvertebrates lived in it. Hossain liked getting to know people from other schools who are also interested in science.
“You meet new people, and it’s really fun,” she said.
Caleb Ledford, a Northwestern Middle School seventh grader, said the wastewater treatment plant tour was his favorite part of the week-long camp, along with kick netting.
Rachel Rath, a Western Middle School sixth grader, was excited to find a leech and some worms in the stream, and liked building the blue bird houses.
“I learned more than I knew before from my school science classes,” she said. “This camp taught me a lot about science, and it was more fun to learn by doing things, rather than from a book.”
Science Rocks! was funded by the North Central Indiana Area Health Education Center.
Students attending included:
Acacia Academy: Jakob Name
Central Middle School: Aramaea Fivecoate, Ilana Hossain, Peyton Sullivan
Eastern Middle School: Alex Stewart
Maple Crest Middle School: Jack Powers
Northwestern Middle School: Amadeusz Alcade, Angela Creppy, Caleb Ledford
Tri-Central: Tyler Gibson
Western Middle School: Rachel Rath, Andrew Ring
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.