Educators go on working vacation

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It's summertime, time to be lounging by the pool, just like teachers Amanda Schmidt and Karen Stanfield. Well, maybe not just like them.

The two elementary school teachers were sitting on a concrete sidewalk June 24 next to a kiddie wading pool in 90s temps, and they were dressed in long pants. Not cool. Stanfield's long shirtsleeves were pushed up for work. And their focus was on handfuls of nails and the sand-dollar-size boats they had just designed out of soft clay. The idea was to see how many nails they could load on their boats before it sank. Ultimately, Schmidt prevailed with 16 nails to Stanfield's 11.

They had taken the plunge, just like about 200 other Douglas County elementary teachers, to spend two summer days soaking up not sun but science camp at Castle Rock Elementary School — an opportunity that Jaime Bailey, a district assessment specialist for professional development, and others had organized.

Bailey said busy elementary teachers often focus on teaching life and earth sciences instead of physical science. The camp gave teachers opportunities to try physical-science labs that take few supplies. The second day of camp, teachers then wrote lab lesson plans.

Eric Sonnentag, an eighth-grade teacher at Mesa Middle School, this day wearing a camp counselor shirt, said that for the camp, he redesigned labs he uses for elementary level. What he wanted the camper-teachers to discover was they didn't need a huge science kit, just a few simple items from a store.

“I know elementary teachers are really cramped for time,” he said. “What I hope is that they understand that science can be done quickly and you can give kids a lot of control.”

Another lab had teachers trying to figure out how to get sugar out of bubble gum and then weighing it to see if it was lighter. Teachers interviewed said they figured out they could chew it to get the sugar out, and then took into consideration the additional saliva weight when weighing.

Other teachers, in friendly competitions, were seen trying to design the best mini wind turbines that were able to spin and bring up the heaviest paper-clip load.

Camper Shanequa Baker, a sixth-grade Meadow View Elementary teacher, said she was thrilled about all the teachers she had met and could connect with for additional resources.

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