Squeals erupt from the children as the black and white rat scurries through a maze of brightly colored foam puzzle pieces and cardboard boxes, searching for the elusive cheese.
Unable to locate the cheese, the rat is at a standstill, prompting Michelle McPherson, director of school programs at Port Discover, to encourage the Port Discover Sensational Science camp-goers to modify the layout of the maze.
Quickly the group of eight to 12-year-olds moves into action in an ultimate display of teamwork using their recently acquired knowledge of positive reinforcement and learned animal behaviors to construct a new maze.
The best way to learn is through hands-on activities, said McPherson, an Elizabeth City State University graduate and former high school biology teacher.
Port Discover is Elizabeth City’s hands-on science museum for children. This summer marks the first series of summer camps since the center moved into its expanded space on Main Street. Port Discover director LuAnne Pendergraft says the larger space is allowing the center to offer expanded activities for the children, such as this week’s science camp aimed at teaching kids a variety of scientific techniques.
Moses McDaniel, Port Discover educator and ECSU research associate, demonstrated “laboratory techniques” on Monday helping campers create their own bacteria slides.
“It is absolutely great to see
them excited about science,” said McDaniel.
Sensational Science Camp attendees were introduced to the themes of microbiology, animal science, space exploration, technology/design and water quality this week. Camper Chaz McDaniel, 11, was excited to design and launch a water bottle rocket during Wednesday’s space exploration day.
McPherson said the space exploration theme was a result of requests for space themed projects on surveys at the end of last year’s summer science camp at Port Discover. The surveys at the end of each camp provide valuable feedback for planning future events.
The success of Port Discover’s programs has been maintained since its creation five years ago through the collaborative efforts of the staff, local government, community sponsors and Elizabeth City State University, according to Pendergraft.
“We wouldn’t be able to do what we are doing without the guidance of the university,” said Pendergraft.
The university’s “expertise of faculty,” “shared resources,” and presence of faculty on the 2010 Port Discover Board of Directors has led to “true community collaboration.”
Pendergraft said Port Discover has also been able to thrive through the recently purchased property that previously contained the Pasquotank Arts Council.
After moving into the larger space in March, the program was able to increase the number of participants in programs, decrease off-site travel and provide children with a “freer space to learn in,” said Pendergraft.
The larger facility contains a computer area with two computers loaded with science software, science board games and an Interactive Gallery that is open to the public. Enticing games like the cell require users “to match organelles with their functions,” by pressing buttons as a large model of a cell lights up with each selection. Another game asks users to pull a lever as they watch two balloon like lungs fill with air in a torso.
Glass habitats provide the onlooker with a glimpse into the activities of fish, Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, toads, frogs, tadpoles and snakes. There is also a toddler area with “very basic” activities that provide an introduction to science, said Pendergraft.
Wendy Pierce, Port Discover director of community programs and ECSU graduate, said one of the best aspects of working with the program is the “ability to be creative in an informal learning environment.”
Pierce said the scientific method and North Carolina Standard Course of Study are used in the implementation of lessons and programs.
It is vital that we “spark a continued interest” in the areas of science, math and technology, said Pierce.
Port Discover will provide a Discovery Days camp for five to seven-year-olds June 28 to June 30.
Pendergraft said the Port Discover camps provide “quality fun” in a scientific environment.
Maze of Monkey Illusion - 2009
Optical illusion maze caused by conflicting horizontal and vertical lines.
Maze Illusion - Artwork by Yonatan Frimer