WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Learning went both ways at Williams College's Summer Science Lab this month.
"One of my interns said this morning, 'The kids were my teachers this week as well,' " lab director Stephen Bechtel said last week.
Bechtel spoke as week one came to an end at the day camp for rising fifth- and sixth-grade students.
The program saw a bump in participation this summer, reaching its capacity of 36 children per week.
Those children explored scientific themes and did experiments under the direction of Williams professors Chip Lovett and David Richardson, who are assisted by 18 college interns from Williams and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
"This is the third summer we've had college students doing instruction at the lab benches,” Bechtel said. "Before that, we had elementary teachers from the area. I got involved in the program as a lab teacher.
"Chip and Dave decided they wanted to change the format and give the college students some experience.”
Many of the collegians come to the summer program with prior experience working with elementary school age children, but they are not necessarily looking to teach as a career, Bechtel said.
"Some of our interns are science majors, but some are computer science or political science,” he said. "Most of them seem to be science people.”
The camp, which runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, includes both lecture and lab time. Each day ends with a demonstration of some scientific phenomenon that the children are asked to think about overnight.
"We say, 'Thank about what you saw and see if you can come up with a story,” Bechtel said.
Those stories — or hypotheses — are discussed the next morning, and the professors explain what was going on in the demonstration.
The emphasis on the scientific method and search for explanations dovetails well with the next generation science standards, even though the summer program itself has changed very little over the years, said Becthel, who came on board in 2000.
The summer camp program this summer drew 72 children from 24 towns in and around Berkshire County and Southern Vermont, and a few kids who were in the Berkshires with their families for the summer, according to Jennifer Swoap from the college's Center for Learning in Action.
Bechtel, whose "day job” is sixth-grade teacher at Charlemont's Hawlemont Elementary School, had a pleasant surprise last summer.
"Last year for the first time, I had a brother and sister join us who were in my class last year,” Bechtel said. "One of them said after finishing the program, 'I want to go to Williams College.' The experience of working in the college lab and being with the professors and the students really inspired her to go further.
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