Eureka! Virtual Camp Re-Cap
July 2020 marked the eighth year that SciXchange has collaborated with the Faculty of Engineering and Ryerson Athletics to develop and run the Eureka! Science and Engineering Camp. Eureka! Camp came with a twist this year and went virtual!
Eureka! is a four-week summer camp that provides campers with educational and hands-on science and engineering activities. Each day, budding scientists aged 7-13 participated in an engaging camp experience right from their homes. Campers were guided through science & engineering activities via pre-recorded video lessons from their counsellors coupled with live support, followed by group time with fellow campers and camp-style fun & games.
At the end of the camp season, our Summer 2020 camp counsellors, Melissa, Renée, and Aleen, reflected on their first experiences at virtual camp.
In the midst of a pandemic, I was given the opportunity to work as a Eureka! Camp counsellor. I’ve worked at camps in previous summers, but I’ve never worked in a STEM camp until this year. When I first got this position, I assumed being a STEM counsellor meant I only had to teach campers different science concepts. However, after four weeks of preparing for Eureka! I realized being a science counsellor is so much more than just teaching science to campers. It also included making science content understandable and engaging to all campers whether they are 7 years old or 13 years old. It meant being a strong leader and facilitating science and non-science related discussions and activities to bring campers together, and create a welcoming and positive community. Being a Eureka! counsellor means building up and fueling the curiosity of our young budding scientists. Due to Eureka! taking place in a virtual setting, being a Eureka! science counsellor made us “Zoom experts, “YouTubers and video editors.
Doing camp from a computer screen was harder than I anticipated, but at the end of it campers had a fun time learning science from the comfort of their own homes and creating new friendships with other campers. Our jobs as science camp counsellors was to increase science literacy and science outreach, and I truly believe that we were able to achieve that. We provided campers with knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts, and we saw that these intelligent campers were able to apply what they’ve learned in different scenarios. One of the most rewarding moments during Eureka! was seeing the female campers taking interest in science and engineering. Unfortunately, the stigma of girls/women being in STEM still exists and is the reason many young girls shy away from science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Seeing these girls invested in STEM and dreaming of pursuing a career in this field, gives me hope that one day women in STEM will be normalized.
Overall, working in Eureka! (let alone a virtual camp) is an experience I will never forget. I’ve gained and developed skills in filming and video editing as well as practiced effective science communication. I met new people and even formed new friendships. I was pushed outside of my comfort zone and learned so much from my fellow counsellors and our campers. I’m so grateful to have worked this position and I hope I was able to make an impression, even if it was a small one, on the summer of our campers.
This summer I worked my first online position as a Science Outreach and Communication Student Lead at SciXchange. My main role was to be a science counsellor for Eureka! Camp. Being given this opportunity was very exciting because it combined a few of my interests. I have many years of experience working in camps but this was my first time working in a STEM camp as well as a virtual camp. As a biology major, I have a strong passion for the field of science, so sharing my knowledge with budding scientists was very rewarding.
Running a virtual STEM camp presented more challenges than I anticipated, but in the end I believe that all of the hard work put into it led to the camp’s great success.
One of the main reasons why parents enroll their children in camp is to make friends and create a sense of community. I was worried that a virtual camp would not be able to accomplish this, but I was proven wrong! Campers formed connections with staff and other campers that were located outside the province of Ontraio, and even on the other side of the world! You could really sense the connections that were made during the Closing Circles at the end of each camp week where some of the campers gave shoutouts to the counsellors to show their appreciation.
Some of my favourite memories from camp were the science drop-in sessions where the campers would watch the pre-recorded video and follow-along to complete the activity or experiment. They always brought their enthusiasm, interesting questions and funny stories to these sessions! Through these experiments, campers learned to be true scientists as they learned that some things do not always work the first time around. The campers persevered through their challenges and I truly felt proud as a counsellor when they got the results they anticipated or they finally understood a science concept. It was very fulfilling to see the campers play with their parachutes, watch their volcanoes erupt, or stare in wonder at the lava lamps they made. I also felt greatly honoured that all of my hard work had paid off when campers would tell me that the experiments I had developed were their favourite parts of their camp experience!
As virtual counsellors, we had to learn many new things as well, such as script writing, video filming and editing, lesson planning, how to maintain engagement virtually, and how to effectively communicate science concepts to young campers. Developing accessible experiments, hosting engaging live sessions and playing entertaining games was a huge accomplishment for all of us. Overall, this position has taught me many valuable things that I will continue to remember in my future career and for the rest of my life.
I hope that the campers will remember this unique experience and the friendships that they have made. I take great pride in the fact that we were able to spark interest and curiosity in these budding scientists and that they feel inspired to pursue their dreams and ambitions, whatever they may be.
The sense of community that we developed throughout virtual Eureka! camp during a pandemic was truly astonishing. The connections made are one of the most memorable things about camp in-person and I thought it would be challenging to develop these deep connections with both the campers and my fellow camp counsellors through a virtual environment. This was definitely not the case. From beginning the day early in the morning with icebreaker activities, like 2 Truths and a Lie, to reflecting on the camp day together at Closing Circle using food emojis, we were able to get to know just how unique each individual was by the end of each week. We knew this vital sense of community was truly established when during the last few Closing Circles, all of the campers gave “shoutouts” and appreciated each other as well as their camp counsellors, which was truly wholesome. I am glad that we were able to keep this very important aspect of camp alive despite the virtual delivery because it was a reminder that we as counsellors did our work well.
Strong connections were only one of the many goals we hoped to accomplish (and that we managed to accomplish well!) as counsellors. Developing engaging science activities that the campers could both enjoy and learn from was another achievement we hoped to fulfill during Eureka!. One of my favourite moments during camp was when campers would join the Drop-In session for an activity, leave their camera on and follow along with the activity using the video we prepared for them. Helping them progress through an activity that we planned months in advance, and watching them put in such amazing effort to bring it to life, was truly a fulfilling moment as a camp counsellor. Perseverance is an important part of both science and engineering, and the campers showed their resiliency multiple times, especially when tackling activities that were a bit challenging, which was great to see. The enthusiasm many campers brought to the Live Sessions in an effort to relate the activity back to a corresponding science concept was also mind-blowing! There was so much I ended up learning from their passion in return, not just new Tik Tok dances. Whether it was showing me their colourful and unique rock collections for the Rock Cycle activity, eating the Sun S’mores they made using a solar oven at the end of the day, or teaching us about one of the longest words in the dictionary, “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis” after creating their own volcano, I could not have anticipated a more exciting and engaging way to deliver a virtual STEM camp than through Eureka!
I sincerely hope that despite the virtual delivery of Eureka camp this summer, we were able to ignite a passionate spark of curiosity for science in the young minds of the campers through the program, and that they were all inspired to pursue their dreams in science in the future, whatever they may be.