Free chemistry camps offered online this summer

By Mason Braasch and Caroline Cole
Department Communications

child completing chemistry camp projectThe University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Chemistry’s Institute of Chemical Education (ICE) is offering its summer chemistry camps for free online, continuing a four-decade-long tradition of education despite the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The virtual camps are available to children and families with computer, tablet or smartphone access to the ICE website. Two groups of virtual activities are available: one for children entering grades K–4 in the fall and another for children entering grades 5–8.

Activities cover a range of scientific topics including chemical reactions, engineering, physics and learning how to do and troubleshoot experiments. ICE worked to make the experiments safe, inexpensive and easy to do at home, says Iszie Tigges-Green, the chemistry outreach specialist at ICE.

“We’ve eliminated all activities that need to be done in a lab or require supervision by trained staff, and we focused only on the activities for which you could find the materials around the house, and do them with either some or minimal parental guidance,” Tigges-Green says.

Most experiments require common items such as plastic bottles, aluminum cans or popsicle sticks. But the lessons and the experiences provided are close to what the traditional camps offer.

“These virtual camps provide an experience similar to what we would have given them at the in-person camps, but for free. It’s not the same as in-person, but for quite a few of the things that we do in the camps, students could do almost the same thing at home,” says John Moore, the director of ICE.

Within each activity, ICE provides a science background that encourages campers to observe, think and draw scientific conclusions they may not be able to reach on their own. At the in-person camps, there is one group leader for every three or four children, which allows campers to interact with scientists — something that is hard to replicate online, Moore points out. To provide a similar experience, ICE is including a series of troubleshooting questions in case the children come across challenges carrying out their experiments.

“At the camps, the campers are usually able to talk with the group leaders about the activity. We’ve added learning objectives so that they can learn more from the activity,” Tigges-Green says.

The virtual format allows children to think independently within their experiments or collaborate with their family members who also may be at home.

“Families can try it out — and their siblings or their cousins or their grandparents can try it out as well. It can become more of family activity or more of a group activity with people in the home,” Tigges-Green says.

Activities are available at ICE encourages families to email to provide feedback about the experiments and send photos of the activities.