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Sonora youth find formula for summer fun


Maggie Beck / Union Democrat Sebastian Kerns, 9, and Ben Billiet, 8, yell with excitement as they observe the chemical reactions during a Baking Soda Pillow experiment Monday at Mad About Science camp.

“Are you ready to be mad about science?” hollered Glen White, student events coordinator with the Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Office.

The response was a resounding “yes” from 230 students, ranging from third grade to eighth grade, gathered early Monday morning at the Segerstrom Amphitheater at Columbia College.

They are attending the week-long Mad About Science summer camp funded by a grant from Front Porch and produced by the Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Office in partnership with Columbia College.

After a group photo, the students and 12 teachers split up and hiked across the college campus to their respective classrooms.

Just outside the Sugar Pine building, a class of third- and fourth-graders, lead by Chinese Camp Science Academy teacher Sheri Betz, stood in a circle as Betz shook a 2-liter bottle of soda and added a specially designed lid holding five Mentos candies.

She placed the bottle in the middle of the circle of children and asked questions about chemical reactions with carbon dioxide and variables. Then, she pushed a tab on the lid and the candy dropped into the soda, causing the liquid to explode out of the top of the bottle. The 8- and 9-year-olds yelled with excitement.

For their next experiment they placed baking soda into a paper towel and put it into a locking sandwich bag. On the count of three they shook their bag. The substance began to bubble and the bag itself became firm, thus the name, “Co2 Pillow” experiment.

Columbia Elementary School teacher Natalie Hornibrook asked a group of fifth-graders in another Sugar Pine classroom to mix baking soda, sodium chloride, water and phenol red solution. Fifth-graders Makayla Youngman, 10, and Jessica Hall, 9, partnered up and squealed, “It’s changing color! It’s warm!” when the red solution turned orange and foamed.

In the Sequoia Building seventh-graders gathered in groups as they worked together to solve a Breakout EDU game. The game requires the students to work in groups and use critical thinking, creativity and communication to solve clues involving friction, force and gravity. The clues give the groups answers to unlock boxes holding more clues and every failed attempt helps them reset and try again.

Walking from the Maple building to the Manzanita building, a group of eighth-graders followed Gold Rush Charter School teacher Dan Webster to the edge of the pond on campus. Webster waded ankle-deep into the pond and talked about the living organisms before having the students write about what they observed. Tuesday they will do a pond study.

White said the week is full of hands-on experiences.

“We want young students to not be intimidated by the process of scientific exploration,” he said.