Discovering New Ways to Pursue Your Passion

Chrystal Zajchowski attended Science Camp in 2014 just before entering her senior year in high school. In 2016, after completing her freshman year at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Chrystal returned as Science Camp’s first counselor-in-training. Just before starting her sophomore classes, Chrystal took some time to write to me about her Science Camp experience. With her permission, I am sharing it here. Thanks for sharing, Chrystal!


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Chrystal at South Point beach cleanup in 2014

This summer, I had the opportunity to be Science Camps of America’s first counselor in training. I was a camper two years prior and that experience was like no other, with trips all around Hawaii to the Imiloa Astronomy Center, the Keck Observatory Headquarters, Volcano National Parks, and even to Black Sands Beach. I knew I wanted to come back, I just didn’t know how. I was the oldest camper that session by two years, so it was hard to fit in with the younger campers. Finding myself talking to the counselors and spending most of my time with them throughout the camp, the counselors and I believed a new position should be made.

The next summer, it was made known to me that the position was made. Just my luck, I was too busy getting ready for college and I could not take advantage of the opportunity. My first year of college, I was having some difficulties in my physics class, so I thought that astronomy wasn’t for me. I had carefully thought about what other majors would interest me, or what else I could see myself doing, but nothing prevailed. I researched the astronomy major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where I study, and I found out that there are different ways to get your astronomy degree that didn’t have to be a Bachelor of Science degree in Astrophysics. Changing my track to a Bachelor of Arts degree in Astronomy, I found that I can study what I really love and not be as stressed out. I thought that at Science Camps of America, I could talk to scientists and science teachers to make sure that this is what I wanted to do.

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Chrystal (center) with campers and staff hiking to see lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Finally, keeping some time for science after a long first year as an astronomy major at UMass Amherst, I boarded my flight to Hawaii. This summer has been an amazing learning experience for me. I always knew it would be, but it was much more than I expected.

Learning how to deal with teenagers and learning how to work with other adults at the same time was just the start of it. So much science was learned as well from determining the salinity of the Waiopae Tide Pools, to realizing that the constellations are something I need to know to be a better astronomy teacher in the future.

This whole experience has made me come to realize many things. After my difficult first year in college, trying to zero in what I really wanted to be doing, and how I could make that happen; I have come to realize that teaching high school students is what I would really like to be doing in a few years. Though I have never really wanted to teach, ever, I have come to realize that teaching would be something I am good at and something that I would enjoy doing.


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Chrystal working on her s’mores technique.

Report on Summer Science Camp 2013

The euphoria of camp wears off quickly, but fortunately, almost magically (perhaps for the rest of our lives), anytime we wish we can close our eyes and instantly our minds flash through the images and sounds that make up our memories of camp. We smile, and for a moment, the euphoria returns.

23 Campers, 4 Staff, 2 10-day sessions, 21 Field Trips, 50/50 Girls/Boys, 50/50 Hawaii/Mainland, 1200 miles per session, 15 average age, 17 lava encounters, 3 pickup basketball games, 27 Rings of Saturn sightings

Our first Science Camp was held this summer on the Big Island of Hawaii and was very successful (more on that later). Here are some numbers from camp:

We had two great groups of good, smart, friendly kids which really made it possible for everyone, campers and staff, to have a great time and to achieve what we set out to do.

Land & Sea Science Camp group photo

Land & Sea Science Camp

Of course, calling something a success doesn’t make it so. You have to have criteria for the claim. Here is ours:

  • No one was lost or seriously hurt (seems basic, but you have to pay attention!)
  • Everyone was housed and fed (it was surprising how important this became!)
  • Campers had fun and bonded closely with each other (per surveys and interviews)
  • Everyone learned a lot of science (without homework or classes!)
  • Met or exceeded our science programming goals

Most importantly, we proved that an overnight camp can be a fantastic environment for teens to learn science in a hands-on, experiential way. One of the reasons I feel confident declaring camp a success is that at the end of each session, no one wanted to leave! The last day was very emotional: many tears, hugs, and sad good-byes. At once, everyone was suddenly realizing what a fantastic experience it had been and that, sadly, it was ending.

Air & Space Science Camp Group Picture

Air & Space Science Camp

I want to thank a number of people for their help in making Science Camp a success: our staff, Patty Halpin, science teacher and Toni Difante, counselor for their hard work, patience and for creating a fun, open and comfortable camp environment;  Julia Neal, Pahala Plantation Cottages, for taking such good care of us every day; The Edmund C. Olson Trust and Mrs. Zora Charles for the scholarships they provided; the many Big Island organizations and individuals that allowed us to visit; members of the Science Camps of America Board of Directors and Board of Advisors for their help and guidance in making camp a reality. Special thanks are added for my wife Sheri, who was officially the camp nurse, but unofficially just about everything else, and without whom, this camp would not have been possible.

Patty

Patty

Sheri

Sheri

Toni

Toni

Beyond Traditional Learning

To build long-lasting connections with the science we are learning each day, we have included activities at Science Camp that enrich the total experience.  Here is a look at how we are doing that.

Enrichment through Hawaiian Culture

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Through Hawaiian language, art, culture, dance, music and history, our intent is to better understand the threads that link us to the past and to the future in this place. Many of the issues we face today – energy, sustainability, climate change, natural hazards, sea level change – were just as critical to the Hawaiians of old. Understanding the approach an island people used to deal with these issues can be related to finding the ways that our ‘island’ planet will do the same.

Enrichment through the Arts

Enrichment through the ArtsUsing photography, videography, art, drawing, music and dance is a powerful way to deepen the understanding of the environmental science that our campers will be studying. Visiting a volcano is a great learning experience, but how does it make you feel?  How can you share with others how you felt while hearing the harrowing story of a tsunami survivor? How does a photographer capture a feeling? We want our campers to find ways to express themselves and to share those expressions with others.  Our specialists will be helping our young scientists learn.

Enrichment through Nature

Enrichment through NatureAs human beings we are wired to connect with nature. Study after study shows that being outdoors is a benefit, no matter what activity it is. At camp we will almost always be outside.  What recharges you? Is it the beach? the ocean? walking through the forest? hiking in the desert? The Big Island offers so much variety, including volcanoes, mountains, forests, deserts and beaches, that we are going to have continuous chances to connect and re-connect with the great outdoors.

Enrichment through Camp Life

Enrichment through Camp LifeAttending camp has so many benefits for the intangibles that are so critical today: leadership, confidence, teamwork, to learn to fail and to try again, to help others, to expand one’s horizons.  These are what are called ’21st century skills’ but camps have been teaching these skills since the 1860’s. And, naturally, making new friends, exploring new places and having fun.

Here is how it comes together…

5 StepsWe hike from camp to the shoreline through a wild coastal plain of old lava flows, scrub brush and lowland forest. As we walk, we learn about the plants we are seeing, the climate that allows this environment, and the forces that created this coastline. When we reach the ancient Hawaiian trail known as The King’s Trail, we learn about what we are seeing and hear tales of myth and history as we continue our hike along the coast.  We find a remote cove where we can stop and have lunch, take videos and pictures or draw, study the topography of the land. We talk about explosive volcanism and what we are seeing around us, and then we look for and measure evidence of changes in sea level in the past. After hiking back, we work together to assemble a multimedia video about the day, including video clips, photos, music and voice-overs.  Before turning in for the night, we post the video on the Science Camp community website so our families and friends can log in and see what we did today.
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Learn more at ScienceCampsAmerica.com.

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Courtesy of Ka’u Preservation

The Difference Between Hiking and Exploring

My grandsons (Aiden and Isaac, ages 5 and (almost) 7) were asked to go hiking.  What do they pack? Magnifying glass, notepad and pencil! These guys don’t hike, they explore!

Exploring

Have you ever thought about the difference between hiking and exploring?

To me, exploring means observing and wondering about what is around you, while hiking is more about letting the magic of the great outdoors soak in.

Hiking is great and letting the great outdoors sink in is, to me anyway, as important as breathing!

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Exploring, though, is all about asking questions: why is that tree so different? what kind of bird is that? why is that hill there? what’s on the other side of that pond? what kind of animal poop is this? (a favorite with the boys).  Once the questions are out there, it is natural to make guesses, discuss the possibilities with others, research what others have learned and make some conclusions. This is, of course, scientific method.

It is an invaluable skill for people to learn. The Scientific Method is not as much a way to answer scientific questions as it is a method of answering any question scientifically.

Keep exploring, my boys!

hiking kilaueaScientific Method

Conservation in Ka’u

Recently I was able to attend an ‘After Dark in the Park‘ event at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The speaker that evening was John Replogle of The Nature Conservancy’s Ka’u Preserve. The Ka’u Preserve is a very close neighbor to  Science Camp, and we are working on plans to include programs at the Ka’u Preserve this summer.

Ka'u Preserve

The Ka’u Preserve consists of four parcels of land adjacent to the Ka’u Forest Preserve, which is State-owned forest reserve lands. The Ka’u forest is the largest and most intact native forest in Hawaii. Many rare plants and birds still survive in this forest. The forest itself features ‘ōhi‘a and koa trees which provide a canopy for the lush native understory.

In his presentation, Mr. Replogle presented the goals of TNC (The Nature Conservancy) in the Ka’u Preserve, and discussed the various programs they are carrying out to achieve those goals.

Most of TNC’s efforts are focused on controlling feral animals and invasive plant species. Controlling the pigs and goats that are the forest’s biggest threat consists mostly of the very difficult work of putting up fencing through very dense forest undergrowth.

Once fences are in place, though, the effect is dramatic, as these images illustrate:

understory fence

This image illustrates how quickly the forest can recover once feral pigs have been fenced out.

This image, from the island of Molokai, shows the effect of a fence built to keep feral goats out.

This image shows the effect of a fence built to keep out feral goats on Molokai.

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Also just a short distance from camp is Kamekame Beach. TNC purchased this land in 2002 in order to protect the endangered Hawksbill Turtle (hanu`ea) for whom this beach is the single most important nesting site in the U.S.  Together with the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, TNC operates a volunteer turtle monitoring program to protect the nests from invasive predators such as rats and mongooses.

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At Science Camp this summer, campers will have the chance to learn first-hand about the plants and animals that make up these habitats, about the methods used to protect them, about the scientists, environmentalists, naturalists, and volunteers who do this important work, and to participate in that work.

More Than Science

Sure, campers at Science Camp are going to learn a lot about science and of course they are going to have fun. But what else can be expected from the summer camp experience?

Camp is a venue for:_MG_5991

  • Inviting exploration and play
  • Providing physical and emotional support
  • Focusing on collaboration and teamwork
  • Trying new things
  • Teaching and valuing self-reliance and resourcefulness
  • Encouraging manageable risk
  • Facilitating relationships

In a nutshell, camp is an environment where young adults can really grow.  At the American Camp Association (ACA) Annual National Conference earlier this month, it was great to learn more of the ways that camp leaders can facilitate the experiences that contribute to this.

Planting trees

It is good to see that across the United States more and more school systems are starting to realize that schools, too, need to provide such an environment. An emphasis on test results is not the answer and is actually toxic to an environment that is trying to develop the character traits outlined above.

Professional educators are starting to understand that camp has been such an environment for over 150 years, and that camps, and camp leaders, have a lot to bring to the table.  And camps and camp leaders are starting to realize that they have a lot to offer. Unfortunately, camps have not been good at collecting and sharing data, and educational folks generally love lots and lots of data.  That is starting to change, thanks to efforts by the ACA, and a growing realization among camp leaders how important it is to have that data.

I believe that when camps start to provide data for studies that educators can read and respect, lights are going to go on. Educators will see the tools they need to help provide the right environment, and camps will see how important their work is to youth development and how important it is to expand the reach of camp.

plantingtree

Throw in some nature and you’ve got a winning recipe.

“Science doesn’t move forward unless…”

“Science doesn’t move forward unless someone is willing to paint a target on himself.”

Paul Martin, Emeritus Professor of Geosciences, University of Arizona

This is a wonderful quote that I found in “Back to the Future in the Caves of Kauai” by Dr. David A Burney. I found Dr. Burney’s book very interesting as I recently visited Makauwahi Cave on Kauai and the book provided greater insight on this fascinating place.

What I found even more interesting about the book, though, is the insight into the job and life of a scientist that comes to light through Dr. Burney’s descriptions of his projects. I expected to find the science interesting, and was fascinated by the scientific life even more.

Back to the quote:.
“Science doesn’t move forward unless someone is willing to paint a target on himself.”

I think this is a great lesson for aspiring scientists and I believe Science Camps of America will help young people discover that ‘no guts, no glory’ applies to discovery just as much as war or sports.

If you are ever on Kauai, visit Makauwahi Cave – it is a fascinating place. And I definitely recommend that you read Dr. Burney’s book.

Some pictures from the Makauwahi Cave Reserve: