Science campers decode, solve mysteries

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TURNER — Young, aspiring scientists invaded Turner Primary School this week as children from kindergarten through seventh grade gathered for some hands-on experimentation at Mad Science Summer Camp.

For the past 20 years, the owners of Mad Science of Maine have offered after-school and summer programs to develop children’s interest in science. The programs were designed around one of seven themes. This week in Turner, it’s Spy Academy.

“We need more scientists in our state and nation,” said Mad Science of Maine chief mad scientist Taryn Friedman, aka Lightning Lucy. “The only way we are going to engage more individuals in the fields of science, technology and engineering is to get children excited about these topics when they are still young and curious.”

Each instructor has a special science name, and the children often choose what they will call their teachers. The children also choose fun names for themselves. The names range from science-related, such as Cosmic Christine, to names that revere favorite foods, such as Lord Tiramisu.

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Anna Tibbetts, a certified art teacher from Scarborough, began working with Mad Science of Maine in its after-school program and enjoyed it so much, she jumped at the opportunity to teach at the summer camp. Each of the 20 Mad Science weeklong summer camps has a lead instructor and an assistant instructor.

“Our lead instructors tend to be certified Maine teachers, education technicians or very experienced educators in the field of experiential and/or environmental education,” Friedman said. “Our assistant instructors tend to be individuals who have some experience working with children in a supportive role and/or who are in college working toward a degree in education or science.”

Spy campers learned about spy activities one day, using invisible ink to decode messages and solve mysteries the instructors set up. The next day, they learned about detective work, engaging in activities that helped them learn about fingerprints and footprints.

Tibbetts’ assistant instructor, Christine Savage of Portland, said they have as much fun leading the camp as the children have attending.

“At the end of the week, the kids set up a mystery for us to solve,” Savage said. “They have to work together and it’s really fun to see them do that.”

The learning didn’t stop at the end of camp. Throughout the week, each child received “take-homes,” small science toys and experiments to share with friends and family. Many of the activities during Spy Camp involved the instructors setting up hunts with clues the children had to solve to find their take-homes for the day.

Camper Landon Cooper, 7, of Poland, said the take-homes were his favorite part of the camp.

“We get some take-homes like invisible ink with a special flashlight. It won’t show up without the flashlight. We have a detective kit,” he said, rifling through his bag of treasures. “The take-homes are really fun.”

This was Landon’s first time at summer camp.

“I’ve made some friends, at least,” he said.

Sabra, 7, of Turner, said she liked outer space before, but now she really likes spies, too.

“I learned that spies use metal detectors and things like that,” she said. “They’re really cool.”

The camps run with between six and 20 children, generally between ages 6 and 12.

“We attract a wide variety of children to our camp,” Friedman said. “I can’t say that there is a typical kid. Some of our campers, though, prefer to build and do activities that stimulate their brains as opposed to doing sports and being outside. Girls and boys alike enjoy our programs.”

Tibbetts said the instructors can customize their programs during the week as they come to know the children.

This is the last week for Mad Science Summer Camp, but the organization offers a variety of programs, including science-themed parties, all year long.

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