January 21, 2020

Science, math camp an exercise in immersion for local youths> Adults learn their share of lessons, too, in Pittsfield experiment

PITTSFIELD — It’s the second year of Science and Math Camp in SAD 53 and, according to participants, the adults learned as much about teaching as the children learned about learning.

Although the camp didn’t have a lot of rules — or even walls — students loudly exclaimed that it had plenty of mosquitoes.

Home base was Warsaw Middle School, but frequent field trips to woods and fields caused one student to assess what had been learned by saying, “Bring lots of strong bug spray.”

The camp is a weeklong exploration and experiment by teachers from all grade levels working with students in first through ninth grades. The goal of the camp, which featured field trips, exploration, archaeology and the creation of museums and exhibits, is to remove the teacher from the traditional role at the head of the class and let the students leave their desks and immerse themselves in learning.

“We are trying to let go of being the teacher and coach the kids,” said Vickery School teacher Richard Woodbury. “Let them learn on their own with our guidance. We’ve already seen they will go as far as we’ll let them.”

The camp allows a blending of children of all ages and levels of skill, said Woodbury. With children working in small groups with teachers and counselors, none of the students became disruptive or misbehaved because they couldn’t fit into the program, said Woodbury.

The teachers became guides; the classroom was the outdoors. Daily exercises in community building promoted an atmosphere of sharing and caring, he said.

“Every kid here has been right on task; they aren’t bored; they love the hands-on style of learning,” he said.

“This style of learning has a lot more open space,” said Forrest Peterson, 10, a camper who will enter fifth grade this fall.

“I’d like to see more freedom such as this in the regular classrooms,” he said, adding that with more hands-on projects and a full week of special activities, he noticed there were less disruptions by students.

Woodbury said more than 100 children applied for the camp. In Pittsfield, seven teachers and 42 campers participated. Similar camps are being held in Winslow, Camden-Rockport and Troy, on a smaller level, he said.

The camp is funded through a Beacon School Grant awarded to SAD 3 in Unity. As part of that grant, Unity schools were required to reach out to other schools.

“We were lucky enough to be one of those schools,” said Woodbury. No Sad 53 money was used for the camp, he said.

David Potter, a biologist from Unity College, provided valuable information to the campers, Woodbury said.

Staffers at the camp used two field trips to integrate math and science and promote problem-solving and critical thinking in their young students. One trip was to the former town farm on Peltoma Avenue. This site was chosen, said Woodbury, because it was once populated by animals, then by humans and has now returned to a natural state.

A second field trip was to Manson Park, where the Central Maine Egg Festival carnival and events tents had just pulled out and students were challenged to discover what impact such a large event had on the environment.

A museum created by the children displayed their collection from the site: screws, cigarette butts, bolts, and trash.

The open, free style of teaching is easily transferred to the classroom, said Woodbury.

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