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Camps provide tech opportunities for students


Photo By: Courtesy of Bronwyn o”malley
Photo Courtesy Of Bronwyn O”Malley

Students in Ameeta Mukherjee and Shezadi Merchant’s camps have opportunities to explore science and technology in ways that promote learning by doing.

Two Los Altos residents have partnered to present four weeks of summer Science & Technology camps for children entering grades 2-6. Sessions are scheduled 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 5-9 and Aug. 12-16.

Ameeta Mukherjee of Science Matters and Shezadi Merchant of Tech Kids Fun said they are passionate about science, technology and children, and want to encourage children to be passionate about those things as well.

After Mukherjee left the workforce in October to stay home with her children, she supplemented her sons’ science curriculum and thought some of their friends might be interested in joining them.

In February, after spreading the word with friends and posting on her neighborhood’s online site, she began teaching a series of science classes Monday and Friday afternoons.

The success of the endeavor inspired Mukherjee to organize a science camp over spring break. The camp, which attracted children from public, private and charter schools, met five hours a day, complete with an Advancement Via Individual Determination volunteer from Los Altos High School.

She also began teaching science after school one day a week to grades K-2 at Almond.

After the spring-break camp, Mukherjee enlisted Merchant to teach coding to the children. Mukherjee said she read in Wired magazine that Estonia started a pilot project to teach coding to first-graders.

“This is the future,” Mukherjee said. “My pestering paid off, and Shezadi said, ‘Let’s do a STEM camp.”

An important component of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is learning by doing, according to Mukherjee.

For the summer camps, Mukherjee and Merchant will swap groups of children for three hours each. Merchant, a computer scientist, will use a program called Scratch, a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, to animate different objects and will teach campers how to create a website.

“The kids want to do stuff on the computer – they just don’t know what to do,” Mukherjee said.

Both sessions will feature new vocabulary words, experiments and unstructured time “to really mess around in a safe manner,” said Mukherjee, adding that “goggles are used a lot.”

Mukherjee emphasizes the scientific method and ensures that the children understand how their outcomes relate to their initial hypotheses. She said the camps will be abuzz, participatory and full of inquiry and conversation, with time for snacks, games, play, exercise and taking walks.

Los Altos resident Julie Watson enrolled her 7-year-old in Mukherjee’s Science Matters classes.

“He learned things I never would have thought to introduce at this age, and had so much fun doing it,” Watson said. “What I didn’t expect was that he would also tell me about the scientific principles involved.”

Mukherjee said she hopes to spark girls’ interest in science, noting that many don’t see it as fun.

“But it is,” she said. “You get started and you think, ‘I just want to keep doing stuff.’ What class can you not make a mistake in?”

For now, Mukherjee and Merchant are conducting the camps in Mukherjee’s north Los Altos garage.

“It’s nice for the children to come to a home,” Mukherjee said. “People are relaxed. I love the idea of pop-up labs in people’s homes teaching children a new skill such as knitting, cooking and building.”

Camps cost $400 per session, $100 per day. The location will be revealed upon enrollment.

For a schedule of sessions and registration information, visit www.sciencemattershq.com or www.techkidsfun.com.

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