Mobilizing Science Education

MoLab’s Camp Spark – Igniting Knowledge! in today’sTallahassee Democrat

TDO Grant Clift

Trish Hanson and Aimee Hills are on a mission to bring interactive science to Leon County.

The duo recently cofounded MoLab Inc., a nonprofit designed to teach youngsters about science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) outside the classroom environment. Hanson, former chief operating officer at the now-closed Brogan Museum, said bringing science to students, especially when they’re off from school, keeps otherwise sedentary minds occupied.

“Perhaps they’re not in that ‘learning environment’ but their brains are still active,” Hanson said.
MoLab (short for Mobile Science Laboratory) hosts interactive camps for students during holiday breaks from school. “Camp Spark” is open for kids who are at least 4 years old and serves students through the eighth grade.

This year’s winter session of Camp Spark started Dec. 23 and ends Jan. 6 at SAIL High School.
Students experimented with “frozen science” on Monday by looking and frozen bubbles and learning about what causes water to freeze. Sophia Umana, a 9-year-old Holy Comforter Episcopal School student who attended Monday’s session with her little brother Oscar, said her favorite part of the day was making ice cream from scratch.

Monday was Sophia’s first day with Camp Spark.

“We get to do a lot of activities,” she said. “It’s not just studying and learning — we get to do activities with everything.”

Hills and Hanson agreed Camp Spark’s partnership with SAIL is mutually beneficial. They get to use SAIL’s facilities — the camps are held in the same classroom where SAIL’s robotics club builds award-winning robots — and SAIL students get to practice teaching kids.

Brenna Wonsey, an 18-year-old senior, said she has dreams of becoming a kindergarten teacher. For now, she’s a counselor with Camp Spark, which means she can dream up her own lesson plans and practice getting a classroom’s attention. Wonsey is also a member of SAIL’s robotics club.

“Teaching with kids gives me the hands-on experience I need,” she said. “I’m happy I get to work with MoLab and I’m happy SAIL opened its campus to it.”

Hills said the children involved with the camp have enjoyed themselves so far. She joked the original goal was to “trick” kids into learning by disguising educational activities with interactive fun.

The kids have since caught on to the plan, she said, and now they’re looking forward to learning something new during the day.

“The program is meant to be educational, entertaining and hands-on,” she said. “They’re learning, but they’re doing it in an entertaining way so it doesn’t feel like they’re in school while they’re on a break.”

Camp Spark is just a starting point for MoLab, Inc., Hanson said. The eventual goal is to fund an actual fully-stocked mobile laboratory that can travel to different schools. The “MoBus” will function as a sort of “classroom on wheels,” complete with telescopes, a discussion area and a robotics station.

“The kids will have a diverse array of education tools at their hands and we’ll be able to visit them as opposed to them trying to trek to some location,” Hanson said.


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