Friday, July 30, 2010

Lessons Learned from the Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp

I read recently that one of the greatest "manly traditions" worth restoring was proper correspondence. Well, I can't begin to try to write a letter to every one of you, so I'll try this open letter to all the campers, their families, their friends, my fellow counselors, staff, our guests from ExxonMobil, and anyone else interested in the BHSSC.

This camp was an incredible experience for everyone involved, and I believe we would be hard pressed to find any single person who didn't walk away from the Silent Wings Museum today a little bigger, a little bolder, and a little more excited about the future yet to come. Hopefully, without running off into too many words, I can use this letter to relay the many lessons I've learned from the camp and, also hopefully, some of you can connect.

I begin with the kids, and the many important things of which I was reminded by them. I said to them during one session that "rarely do we really need new knowledge; we most need to be reminded what we already know." Never have I felt that was more true than when I left the museum this afternoon, and I aim to elaborate below.

I witnessed these children grow in just two weeks. Those who entered the Murdough cafeteria meek, frightened, and nervous, unsure of themselves, their ability, and their interest in a 10-day science camp, came into a strange environment, populated by "math & science kids" that stood heads taller than them, staff & counselors pointing them this way and that, parents milling about with confusion and apprehension, and a building they had likely never before seen. They came in as any of us would in similar circumstances--scared!

But by the end of that first week, I could see the gears spinning in their heads, as they leaped fearlessly into the scientific and engineering methods of problem solving. They asked questions, they dug deeper, they wanted to know more, and they wanted to answer more. I witnessed these kids, who were all the "smartest in their class" and who rarely would have asked a peer anything, reach out to others who thought differently, and I could see in them the warm embrace of others' ideas. This is intellectual growth at its finest.

Even more than that, I witnessed incredible personal growth. Those meek, timid kids who came to us with hardly a word to say, by the end, were expressive, vibrant, inspiring balls of charisma, alive with the freshness of every day's activities and the challenge of new problems to solve. Within their teams, they became friends and colleagues, able to attack any issue with zest so long as their team was supportive. Outside their teams, they became networkers, quick to trust and open to new ideas.

If just two weeks in an environment like this could stimulate these brilliant minds, and these wonderful characters, to such heights, I can only begin to imagine how successful, influential, and paradigm-changing they will be as a team in the future!

Perhaps the lessons I will hold most dear, however, are those related to being reminded of what I already knew. Working with these students for 10 days, I was reminded to embrace pure passion. No middle-schooler goes to a science camp because it looks good on a resume. No middle-schooler writes an essay and collects letters of reference for a science camp because recruiters will like it. No middle-schooler steps WAY outside his comfort zone and meets dozens of new people because he thinks it will help him in college. A middle-schooler comes to a science camp because, after all the parent poking & prodding, and after all the well-intended advice from teachers, they love science.

Some of these kids said they didn't like math, or they were bad at science, or they didn't know what an engineer was, but they attended this camp every day for two weeks because pure passion exists for the subject and genuine curiousity was enough motivation to act on that passion. I am reminded by them to truly love that which I love, and to devote myself and my energy to it. In the end, what else will matter but that I loved what I did with my life and that I inspired others to do the same?

Also, I am reminded now of the value of learning for learning's sake. I constantly pursue new knowledge. I am invigorated by discovery, I am enlightened by challenge, and I am broadened by study. For 48 students to walk into this camp solely to learn new things is truly inspiring, because I think in the hunt for the material--be it a job, an amount of money, a car, a house, or even a degree--we often forget that the human mind is most satisfied when learning is pure. Is it not the true purpose of education to teach us to think, to aspire, to dream, and to achieve? If we have tunnel-vision in all things, I think we limit our potential, and this pure learning reminds me of that.

After all that, I am reminded of the wonders which are revealed when we seek help. Students are continuously immersed in an environment which begs them to ask questions--it is by the very nature of a learning institution that they should--but we condition them to fear being wrong. Through such fear, they also avoid being perceived as ignorant, when really, ignorance is our greatest blessing! Were it not for my ignorance, there would be nothing in the world to learn, and were there nothing in the world to learn, there would be no reason to rise each day. These kids, in their quest for pure learning, based on pure passion, proved to me every day that asking questions, seeking help, and desiring ever more knowledge is a truly higher path to satisfaction.
Many of us moan that we long for the joy of childhood...when really I think that joy lies in their curiosity. For all our technology, let us not forget that the world is still large, even when it is small, and that by wanting to know, and by being willing to ask, we can have all the joy and wonder of childhood and more.

For me, it was an incredibly sad day to leave the museum not at the head of a group of middle-school students. I realized that I was walking away from a fountain of imagination, passion, enthusiasm, and energy that I will struggle in the future to find again. No experience can ever be quite like the first, and I know that even though I will love subsequent years in this camp, I will always remember the Science Camp of 2010.

Thank you to Bernard Harris, the Harris Foundation, ExxonMobil, Texas Tech, the TTU T-STEM center, Beccy, Pat, Jana and all the staff, my fellow counselors Becca, Susan, Joey, Sam, Ellen, Laura, Patrick, Matt, Greg, Kayla and Scott, and to all the parents who supported this endeavor. But more than any of them, thank you students from across the South Plains, who made this experience beyond memorable--you have inspired me, motivated me, and encouraged me to always be exactly who and what I should be: a child at heart, fascinated by and interested in the world around me, moved to action only by my love for action.

May your future contain all the wonder of the world and more, and I desperately hope that you never lose your passion for science, technology, engineering, mathematics, nor most of all, life.

Dunte Hector

Friday - July 30

Last day of camp!

The morning started the same as all the others but with a little extra pep in everyone's step. Breakfast and then it was the final walk to our classroom in the Education Building. This morning's topic was nutrition and one of our camp nurses, Belinda Gallegos, RN led the class. The campers had several hands-on activities; how much sugar was in a Sonic Route 44 soda; how to read labels and make proper decisions; and a great interactive game that fit perfect within our camp - MyPyramid Blast Off Game (

After class, it was back to the dorm to pack and meet families for lunch. Closing ceremonies were held in the College of Business Lecture Hall where Lauren Dohrer, ExxonMobil Representative, spoke to and congratulated the campers on their achievements throughout the two weeks. Each crew presented their solution to the Core Problem and received their medallion, certificate and camp picture. The presentations were very impressive and showed how well they worked together as a crew in showing what they had learned. We were very proud of them all!

Then it was time for one final field trip to the Silent Wings Museum where campers and their families could tour the museum together and mingle with other families during the reception. This proved to be a wonderful time to visit and say our final goodbyes.

Several emotions were experienced today - excitement of completion, pride in one's accomplishments, thrill of seeing family and going home, sadness of saying goodbye to new friends, and the realization that the long awaited ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp was over. There will be no more wondering what the next camp day will bring, but endless opportunities to use what was experienced and learned at camp both for the campers and staff. Needless to say I believe that all campers and staff involved were influenced in some way because of this experience. Some have learned new things and some have remembered things they had forgotten, but everyone took something positive from this camp...Mission Accomplished!

Thursday - July 29

Thursday was a really busy day working on final crew presentations, building gliders, visiting the Planetarium and Texas Tech Museum and finally enjoying a Star Party. 

Each crew will present their solution to the Core Problem Dr. Marcy introduced to them the past couple of days.  This morning I spoke with them about exploring free educational software online and introduced them to Google Docs.  We went over the presentation function in Google Docs for their crew presentations and discussed the criteria and tips for a successful presentation. They worked in their crews for several hours designing, developing, and finalizing their presentations and are ready to share what they have learned with you in the closing ceremony Friday.

In the afternoon, Scott Smith led the group through viewing portions of a video on the Silent Wings Glider program followed by making simple gliders and testing their accuracy and distance. This helped to familiarize the campers with the Silent Wings program before they visited the Silent Wings Museum Friday afternoon. 

Campers were treated to a visit to the Moody Planetarium and Texas Tech Museum for the rest of the afternoon and then it was back to the dorm for some down time before the Star Party.  We were fortunate to have a beautiful evening for the Star Party at Tech Terrance.  Tom Heisey and the South Plains Astronomy Club were wonderful hosts and we appreciate them sharing their equipment and knowledge with the campers. 

It was late when we returned, but the night counselors wanted to make the last night of camp fun and hosted a pizza party. Not sure when the last eye was finally shut! 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wednesday - July 28

This was the most challenging day yet for the students. They had lots of hands-on work to accomplish. They completed making performance measurements on the prototype linear electric generator and are now getting ready to prepare a presentation of their scaled up designs.

We did some complicated mental gymnastics this afternoon involving estimating numerical answers to difficult questions without resorting to a calculator. They caught on very quickly. For example, they measured the electrical resistance of the generator coil, which was approximately 38.5 ohms. I told them the electrical resistance of the wire used was .108 ohms per foot. I then asked them to calculate, without using a calculator, what the appriximately length of the wire was on the generator using the tricks we showed them. They rounded .108 to .11 ohm. If it was .1 ohm the answer would be 385 feet. If we subtracted for the extra .01 ohm we would subtract 38.5 feet. Round this to 40 feet. Subtract 40 from 385 and you get 345 feet as the approximate length of wire. The correct answer is 356 ft. Their estimate was correct to within within 3% and they did all of the arithmetic in their heads.

When Rich Burgess was discussiing engineering ethics in the last hour today, he asked the students who would benefit from what they had learned in the last two weeks. One young lady said, "Us." When Rich asked her what she meant by "Us" she quickly replied, " Us, the engineers." Clearly she now thinks of herself as an engineer. That made my day!

I am very proud and impressed by these students. They have a bright future ahead of them regardless of the field they enter.

Tuesday - July 27 (Core Problem)

Tuesday was a busy day for the students. The Core Problem was introduced which is to design a 150 kilowatt, ocean wave powered electric generator. The students were introduced to the engineering design FRAME model. A key step in the engineering design model is the development of an engineering prototype to verify key design assumptions and strategies. At the end of the day students were given their prototype kits and began to familiarize themselves with the prototype and how to make performance measurements. On Wednesday the students will be given a review of Tuesday's concepts prior to starting the task of measuring and recording the electrical performance of the prototype.

Based on the data they collect, the students will take on the task of scaling the performance up to the 150 kilowatt level. The final step is a feasibility analysis of the scaled up design.

Throughout the design process students are introduced to engineering ethics concepts. The most important ethical concept is that engineers are charged with holding the safety, health and welfare of the public paramount.

The final task for the student teams is to prepare a PowerPoint presentation of their design and the improvements they have created.

A point worth making is that the material presented on Tuesday and Wednesday is at the level expected of college engineering freshmen. The students are doing very well indeed, being able to answer difficult questions and pose questions of their own. Even though these are middle school students, they are clearly capable of doing college level engineering work. We should never underestimate the intellectual abilities of students in these critical years of their education. When challenged they will rise to the occasion.

Core Problem Defined

The Harris Foundation's Project-Based Inquiry Learning (PBIL) model requires each camp to present a core problem to the students.  The foundation defines their PBIL model as a systematic process to actively engage students in inquiry as they work in collaborative teams to design products and make presentations that illustrates a plausible solution to the core problem. Following are the steps each crew will follow to solve the core problem.
  • Determine what is known
  • Brainstorm what is needed
  • Conduct research
  • Propose possible solutions
  • Select one proposed solution
  • Design a plan of action
  • Complete your plan of action
  • Analyze evidence collected
  • Communicate evidence
  • Present final best solution to the core problem

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Monday - July 26

Rocket Blast Off! There is a lot that goes into the making of a rocket - even those that can be made in one day. Greg Burnham led the campers through the thought and design process of what needs to be considered when building a rocket. Several physics and mathematics lessons were included and we were able to tell right off who of the group doesn't claim math to be their favorite subject. Due to the various grade levels, the math proved to be a challenge but with the help of counselors everyone made it through it.

After all the calculations were made, it was time for building. Each camper received a motor housing, body tube, balsa wood for fins, string, streamer, and a nose cone. Step by step the campers assembled their rockets. Gluing the fins on the body tube takes patience and precision in placement. Our future engineers were already problem-solving as one crew came up with the idea of stacking two markers together in an empty water bottle extending past the opening and then putting the end of the body tube over the end markers. This provided an elevated platform to hold their rocket while gluing the fins and not having to lay the rocket down to dry.

After dinner, we all went out to Urbanovsky Park to the launch pad Mr. Burnham had set up to blast off the rockets. The counselors helped each camper insert their motor and ignition wiring and then placed their rocket on the launch pad. With an announcement of the camper and their rocket's name, the camper pushed the launch button and watched in excitement as their rocket hopefully blasted away.  I was very excited to see the first one shoot high in the sky and to watch the camper's expressions as the cone popped off and the streamer shot out and the rocket drifted in the wind to the ground.

We had a ground crew that tried to locate the rockets when they landed as the wind proved to be a force in where the rocket would end up. I believe most were recovered; however, the recreation center roof is currently home for a few of them. Unfortunately, due to some technical difficulties, there was a handful that was not able to blast off their rockets before it became too dark to see them. All and all I think the campers had a great time learning how to make rockets and see their handy work high in the sky.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Week Two - Blast Off

Gone for only a day, all our campers returned on Sunday afternoon excited about Week Two of summer camp which begins with a rocket build and launch on Monday. We definitely have an action-packed week planned so stay tuned for more photos of rocket launches, human LED lights, the Star Party, and much more!

For parents who would like to submit comments, please fax your feedback forms to either Jana Winter or me at (806) 742-3493. If you failed to receive a form on Friday afternoon, you can e-mail your comments to us at either: or

Friday - July 23

A visit to the Science Spectrum is always fun and interesting and this time was no different.  Since we had a day of forensics with King Tut earlier in the week, the Science Spectrum pulled a movie out of the vault especially for us - Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs.  It was really neat because they demostrated using DNA for various analysis of the mummies and we all knew exactly what they were talking about!

After the movie, everyone had plenty of time to explore the exhibits and hands-on activities throughout the Science Spectrum and then meet up for a pizza party for lunch.  The Science Spectrum also treated us to a special electricity show in the Science Theatre.  The show included demostrations of making electricity complete with lightning strikes and making one camper's hair stand straight up!  The finale was having a group of five campers hold wrists with one person on the first end with the "light switch" and one person on the other end with the "light bulb".  Both ends were connected to the "power plant" which consisted of the demonstrator turning a wheel to generate electricity.  Once the person on the end pressed the light switch, everyone could feel the electric current pass through the human chain to the other end.  Of course, everyone wanted to give this a try! 

After traveling back to the dorm, all campers gathered to write thank you notes to Dr. Bernard Harris and ExxonMobil.  Then it was upstairs to pack and wait for their parents to pick them up for the weekend.  Many were ready to get home but looking forward to coming back Sunday.  Hope everyone gets some well deserved rest.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thursday - July 22

Robots everywhere!!! It would be almost impossible to walk across our classroom today without stepping over or getting bumped by a robot. Today was robotics day and Malli Travis instructed the campers in an overview about robotics and then introduced them to the Lego NXT Mindstorms Kit. After learning about the brick (brain) and various sensors, the campers were ready to start building. Their challenge for the day was to design and build a Mars Rover that would rescue the wounded Spirit, the current Mars Rover. They were also to conduct various experiments while on Mars including: The Surveyor (line follower); Habitat Cleanup (moving obstacles); Volcano Run (weaving through obstacles); Specimen Collection (take and move objects) and Rescue (retrieving the wounded rover). There were several successful missions!

This evening the campers tested their compass skills in a navigation course and answered questions at each of the twelve destinations. Afterwards it was back to the dorm for some free time before bed.

Though everyone seemed to have had a good week, there is excitement that they will be going home tomorrow for the weekend break. Even the counselors!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wednesday - July 21

It was all about forensics and King Tut today. Susan Talkmitt and the CISER (Center for the Integration of Science Education & Research) Scholars took the campers through the time of King Tut and the discovery of his tomb and its riches. Apparently, someone claimed to be the heir to King Tut and his fortune. It was the camper's job to determine through DNA experiments and other fact finding investigations if it was possible for King Tut to have an heir. Other activities included geocaching to find clues at designated spots throughout the campus and a lesson on hieroglyphics. Each crew took all the information gathered throughout the day and concluded that King Tut does not have an heir. The CISER Scholars made it a very fun and exciting day with forensics.

Evening activities included organized recreation time with eight team building stations outside on the dorm grassy area. The crews rotated through each station and had a task to complete together as a team. Some were very challenging as you will see in the pictures above. Even after two hours of recreation most of the campers wanted to play sand volleyball until shower and bed time. It was a long day and everyone should sleep well tonight!

Media Day Video

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tuesday - July 20

Today was media day and it was busy!!!  Each BHSSC camp is required to have a media day which includes having an ExxonMobil representative lead the campers in a River Raft Activity.  Each crew was to design a raft they thought would hold the most payload (pennies) on water.  They made the rafts out of 2 sheets of foil and 4 straws.  The winner of today's activity held 371 pennies! We were fortunate to have Dr. Bernard Harris join us for this activity and spend time with the campers discussing their designs and educational interests. Everyone enjoyed getting his autograph in their camp programs, me included!

Then we trekked across campus to the Merket Center for a lunch cookout with Dr. Harris and other special guests including several Texas Tech faculty and staff. Karen Gibson from the Lubbock City Council presented us with a special recognition proclamation. Janie Kenney, ExxonMobil representative, spoke to the campers about being proud of their interest in science and to pursue their dreams. Dr. Harris stressed the importance of this camp in promoting the student's STEM education and related future jobs.  Dr. Harris encouraged the campers to believe in themselves because he believes that each of us is multi-potentialed, multi-talented and here at camp for a reason.  He charged each camper to figure out what special thing they can bring to this world and follow their dreams. Dr. Harris took several questions from the campers, mainly which focused on his time in space. Be sure and ask your child about the fun and interesting stories he shared.

After lunch, we headed to the Texas Tech Recreation Center for an afternoon of wall climbing and team building experiences.  I was amazed on how the campers took to the wall and zoomed to the top, several more than once.  It was a great time for all and I enjoyed watching them work together to accomplish the team building tasks. You could see the sense of accomplishment each had when they reached the top of the wall complete with big smiles.

This evening was open recreation time at the dorm and when I left they were busy playing volleyball, board games, calling home, watching TV, and socializing.  Another wonderful day at camp!

Monday - July 19

We have officially "launched" ourselves into the exciting two weeks of the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp. 

Everyone settled in nicely Sunday evening and was ready to go first thing this morning...and I mean first thing - it was reported that some campers were up at 5:30! 

After enjoying a nice morning walk from Murdough Hall to the Education Building, we began the morning with warm up activities by Dunte to make sure everyone was "Go for Launch".  Dr. Beccy Hambright provided a class on Conflict and Communication and worked with the campers on several key points to help them improve their communication and deal with conflict.  We were treated with a surprise visit from Mrs. Janie Kenney, ExxonMobil Representative and she took time to answer several questions about her job as an engineer. 

After lunch we walked across campus to visit the Hunt-Winston School Solar Car Challenge.  There were five solar cars and teams available for the campers to visit with and ask questions.  There were also representatives from the Texas Tech EcoCar Challenge and Solar Car Teams as well as the College of Engineering. Many campers had a lot of questions for each of these groups and the interaction was terrific for all! 

The rest of the afternoon consisted of two presentations from the College of Engineering on majors available in the engineering field and from the Center of Undergraduate Research on STEM jobs.  (STEM-Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). 

Tonight we went to see Toy Story 3 and I must say we have a wonderful bunch of campers!  Everyone was well-behaved and enjoyed the outing very much.  Now it's time for some rest to get ready for our big day tomorrow - Media Day with Dr. Bernard Harris.