Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Zombie Science

If a zombie apocalypse arrives one day, will people be ready for it? This questions sounds like a joke — or the plot of a George Romero film — but for students in the Zombie Science Camp this summer it is a serious question. This week, they will have to study, complete experiments and learn about how to survive if zombies were to take over the Earth.

The camp is a part of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Summer Adventure program sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Learning & Research. Primarily for students in third through twelfth grades. The 11 sessions are designed to be a fun way to learn STEM topics.

Zombies are not the only unique subjects to study. Other sessions include exploring Mayan pyramids, building robots and dissecting animals. One class focuses on encouraging young women to enter the high-demand field of engineering. All classes involve group work and lots of hands-on learning activities.

The camps are usually well received so many students repeat a class or come back, according to Nancy Combs, the K-12 STEM Academic Program Coordinator at the Institute.

“STEM education is fun. And it is hands on. That is important. When it is hands-on it usually means it turns their minds on,” said Combs.

In the zombie science class, which began on Monday, the 18 students from ages 11 to 14 learned about DNA and performed experiments to show how a disease — like “zombification” — could infect a person. They will later study self-sufficiency topics like filtering water and windmill power since these things would be crucial after a zombie apocalypse. While dead people do not walk the Earth, the subject matter is still useful, especially for students interested in science.

It was certainly interesting to Akira Snowden, who one day hopes to become a veterinarian, and was excited about the summer camp because her favorite subject is science.

“I originally wanted to go to the biology camp because I heard they get to cut up a frog,” said Akira Snowden. “But my mom wanted me in this one instead. But I like it too.”

Not everyone felt the same about cutting up frogs in the biology camp being offered.

“I thought the biology one sounded cool, but there was no way I was cutting up a frog,” said 13-year-old Katy Alford. Alford said she was nervous to come to camp at first because she did not know anyone, but as soon as she got there she said she changed her mind. And by the end of the day was chatting along with her other lab partners as they worked on experiments.

Twelve-year old Jake Gilstrap said the zombie class was his main choice.

“I thought it would be cool to do,” said Gilstrap wearing safety goggles and prodding a test tube. “It is something different. It’s a different kind of class. We get to see how a zombie virus will affect DNA… It’s cool.”

Being unique is something the summer camps are trying to do to make learning tough subjects fun. The camps have been at the Institute for several years, according to Combs, but more classes were offered this year because of increased funding from the J.T.-Minnie Maude Charitable Trust, a non-profit that works to provide educational scholarships and grants.

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