by Erika Solberg
The theme at Camp Explore this year is Patterns. Across the disciplines of art, science, clowning, language arts, and math, campers are learning that patterns repeat, patterns predict, and patterns are everywhere. One pattern easily spotted this week is that of returning campers and teachers who enjoyed their experience so much last year that they are back for more.
When asked why he returned for a second year of camp, Landon Sigler of Bowling Green said, “All my memories of last year were good.” On Monday in Language Arts, he and his classmates read Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs with first-time teacher Shelly Jones and came up with ideas for characters for their own stories. Picture-filled books ranging from the Guinness Book of World Records to I Want My Hat Back were scattered around the room for students to look through to gain inspiration. The project certainly pleased returning camper Charlie Murphy of Bowling Green because “I love writing stories.” Charlie’s best friend, Camden Glass of Alavaton, is also looking forward to Language Arts class in particular and says the teacher “is really good.”
His opinion is not surprising: Shelly is a WKU graduate student working on her certification in gifted studies. She teaches sixth grade language arts and is also the middle school dean of students at St. Francis School in Goshen. She wants her students “to be able to see themselves as writers and think about story structure in terms of patterns. This is like literary theory for kids — I love it.”
Offering students new learning opportunities is one of the keys to the success of Camp Explore. When asked about his choice to participate this year and last, Cole Hudson of Radcliff explained, “I came last year because I wanted to get to bring my lunch, which I don’t get to do at school, but then in Language Arts I got to build a robot that delivered medicine to people, so I wanted to come back this year!” On Monday, he was working with Luke Jackson of Franklin on a linked story — each of their characters will appear in the other’s story as well as their own.
In Art, teacher Morgan Conwell is happy to be back for her second year of camp and has lots of plans to incorporate such activities as painting and drawing into “finding anything and everything with patterns, like visual patterns and repeating trends.” An elementary art teacher at Cumberland Trace and Jody Richards in Warren County, she enjoys Camp Explore because “You have more time to focus on the kids’ learning. You can slow down and talk to them one on one — it’s not just hustle and bustle and go, go, go all the time. It’s nice to think about the process instead of just the destination.” She also loves listening to the students: “Two boys were talking to each other while they painted, and one said, ‘I really like koalas, and I’d love to go on a trip toAustralia. If I go to Australia, I’ll bring back a koala for you.’ It was nice to see that kindness.”
This year’s math teacher, Lori Darnell, a teacher at Cumberland Trace, is new to Camp Explore but quickly learned about its special environment of young learners. In one first day class session, campers arrived in her room eager to tell her how they had balanced feathers in Clowning. One student announced she had lost a tooth the previous night, while another needed a hug. Then it was on to a pre-assessment activity. Since her class will be learning about concepts like graphing, perimeter, and area this week while they make their own toy stores, Lori needed to find out what they already knew in order to tailor her teaching. She reminded them as they took their ungraded quiz, “It’s okay if you think this is kind of hard, because that means you’re going to learn a lot of stuff this week!”
On Tuesday, returning camper Nemsiah Nuam of Bowling Green was busy in Science, which is her favorite class “because I get to make stuff.” She was learning about towers under the guidance of Lyndsey Duke, who teaches at 212° Academy in Warren County. Students looked at famous structures like the Eiffel Tower and Canton Tower while discussing the patterns of shapes involved, such as triangles, pyramids, and rectangles. Then Lyndsey challenged teams of three to build a freestanding tower as tall as possible but also able to hold a Styrofoam ball on top. Their only materials were eleven straws, tape, scissors, and 10 minutes of class time.
Nemsiah’s team included Christina VanderMolen of Glasgow and Loie Moore of Bowling Green. They worked diligently and cooperatively, incorporating a lot of triangles into their design. At the end, the team achieved success — their tower was the tallest and was able to hold the ball on top before starting to collapse. Afterwards, all the students looked at each team’s design and reflected on what would have made it work better.
Taking a different tack, Clowning looked at patterns in juggling. Nick Wilkins, also known as Broadway the Clown, has the most years of experience teaching at Camp Explore (he also has taught at SCATS for around 30 years), and it is clear why he keeps coming back: his passion is helping campers discover that they can do what at first they think they cannot. On Tuesday, juggling day, he reminded them, “Everybody can juggle — we just haven’t all learned yet” and “Challenge is how we learn.”
As he explained how to juggle bean bags, he showed that the method made an X pattern. The students chanted along with him: “1-2 catch, 1-2 catch.” He then said, “Listen to the beat — a beat is a pattern.”
Returning camper Abby Buser of Bowling Green, who especially likes art, math, and science, clearly developed some juggling skills last summer because on Tuesday she moved quickly from working with one bean bag to two, and then from two to three, which she managed to juggle for several seconds. Meanwhile, fellow alum Naw Day of Bowling Green, who likes science best and is looking forward to making new friends, found two bags tricky, so Nick worked with her until she got it. “It isn’t hard,” he said. “It just takes practice.”
The bean bags fell and rose, and the campers tossed and caught and dropped and tried again. They were making a pattern, just like Camp Explore, where excellent teachers and excited students arrive — and sometimes return — each year to be inspired by learning. It’s the best pattern of all.