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CMU Harry Potter wizardry STEM camp

Owl-eyed at STEM camp

Middle schoolers learn ‘magic’ of science at Harry Potter-themed workshops

Contact: Gary H. Piatek

When Ed Pinheiro, a docent for Potter Park Zoo, pulled an animal out of its cage, seventh-grader Allison Idema's eyes became as wide as those of the Eurasian eagle owl he was holding. 

When it said "who," it broke the ice and the entire classroom of local middle schoolers giggled.


Welcome to The Unofficial Guide to Wizardry: The Science Behind the Magic, one of the many science and math campsscheduled this summer that work partly in collaboration with Central Michigan University's Science, Mathematics and Technology Center

"This is such an awesome program for the teachers and students in the area." — Michelle Vanhala

The camp's leaders were 2014 CMU graduate Michelle Vanhala, a Knowles fellow who teaches science at Tecumseh High School; Julie Cunningham, director of the Center for Excellence in STEM Education; and several teacher education undergraduates.

Together they developed three days of workshops that demonstrated the "magic" of science: making sparkling "magic wands" in a chemistry lab, turning pennies into "gold" and making colorful "potions" from water.

"This is such an awesome program for teachers and students in the area, and it offers opportunities for undergrads at CMU to get some hands-on experience working with kids," Vanhala said. "I'm really impressed with the people in the STEM center. 

"Central gave me a lot, so I want to give back," she said. "I want to help other young science teachers."

One of the budding STEM teachers she is helping is Sarah Lapp, a junior education major from Mount Pleasant.

"I love getting to work with the kids," Lapp said. "We get to create great relationships with them. Its experience that a lot of students at CMU don't get. I've been able to work with kids from preschool to ninth-graders, so it really gives me a feel for what it's like to be in a classroom."

Lapp ideally would like to teach a physics class, modeled on CMU's makerspace, doing hands-on learning.

She would even consider holding a STEM camp like the one at the College of Education and Human Servicesthat amazed Allison and the others. It's hard to beat bearded dragons, tarantulasand a 6-foot boa constrictor for getting the attention of students.

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