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Science Scavenger Hunt drew young minds to campus for unusual research
Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Spurred by curiosity and seemingly boundless energy, a young research team combed the SUNY Fredonia campus in search of a bobcat, the answer to a perplexing physics problem and a sample of amethyst, a variety of quartz.

These were not traditional college-age students, but 12 inquisitive members of the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Northern Chautauqua County engaged in “The Great SUNY Fredonia Science Scavenger Hunt” on Wednesday, Oct. 16.

Sarah Timmerman and Dylan Dyer, accompanied by Childhood Education majors Brook Osadchey and Samantha Downey, view wildlife display cases in Jewett Hall.

After being paired with a student majoring in Childhood Education, each child was charged with completing assignments that introduced them to several buildings. They found the bobcat – stuffed, of course – in a display case in Jewett Hall, listened as a Physics tutor at Reed Library explained that a baseball would have to be thrown an astounding 2,500 miles per hour in order to escape the earth’s gravitational pull, and found a piece of amethyst in Houghton Hall and learned its chemical formula.

There was plenty of hands-on stuff, too. Children, who were between the ages of 10 and 13, observed the shape of a grain of salt under a microscope, learned to calculate the age of rocks in Chautauqua County through the use of a geologic map, and completed an electrical circuit to illuminate a tiny light bulb.

The hunt was organized by geosciences professor Kim Weborg-Benson and carried out by students in her Essential Science Lab. For more than five years, students in the course have conducted science activities at the Dunkirk Boys’ and Girls’ Club. Weborg-Benson wanted to add something to the club’s after school programming, and to her delight, found the club extremely welcoming of her students.

“They make it easy for us and they’re happy to have us,” she explained, “And I’m happy to take my students there.”

 Davion White (left) and Josh Briggs gain experience in using a science scale under the watchful eyes of Caitlin Garry and Lexi Conner, both Childhood Education majors.

But Weborg-Benson wanted to expand the experience for the children, so she hatched the idea of a scavenger hunt to introduce more of the college – including a few non-science areas -- to these youngsters, some of whom she surmises had not set foot on the campus before. As a warm-up, she and her students hosted a few club members at Houghton for an hour of science activities last spring.

“I wanted to bring the Boys’ and Girls’ Club kids down to see the campus, to walk around and imagine themselves on campus when they are a little older. I wanted them to think that they will go to college, and this college is just down the road from them and it can be part of their community and a part of their lives,” Weborg-Benson explained.

Children walked through the expansive Reed Library on their way to the fourth-floor Learning Center to meet senior Physics major Kahl Counts, rode the elevator to the eighth floor of Maytum Hall to visit the office of Dr. John Kijinski, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and found Diers Recital Hall while absorbing the musical sounds of Mason Hall. As a bonus, they also learned the intimate performance venue was named after Francis J. Diers, chair of the Music Department from 1931 to 1964.

“The kids really had a good time, enjoyed going to the campus and visiting the different buildings and seeing all the different spaces,” said Edward “E.J.” Hayes, Boys & Girls Club executive director. The birds’ eye view of the campus from at the top floor of Maytum, the county’s tallest building, was one of many highlights, he noted.

A few children visited the campus last spring and others participated in science activities when Fredonia students staged Science Day at the club in other years, but they always look forward to new science activities, Hayes said.

By working with club members, Weborg-Benson said SUNY Fredonia’s future elementary education teachers gain additional experience in teaching science beyond what’s generally available in regular field placements. “They have the opportunity to share science with young children and have fun with science instruction,” she said.

“They enjoy being with the kids from the club. I think they enjoy the challenge of having to explain something in a different way for the children to understand,” Weborg-Benson said. “The kids from club are so enthusiastic, and my students become more enthusiastic, too.”

Hayes added, “We always welcome the opportunity to get the kids out of the club and into the community, especially when we can give them the opportunity to experience a college campus. Hopefully that will motivate and inspire them to go on to pursue higher education.”

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