As I sat trying to figure out how to start my story on Telus World of Science’s Virtual Summer Camps, my six-year-old wandered up to me.
“Daddy, can I show you something on your computer,” he asks.
“Sure,” I say hesitantly, wondering if it was going to be another talking guinea pig video.
Then, he directs me to a kids science website. Then onto a specific page. This is where I learn who Katie Bouman is.
Katie Bouman is a computer scientist working in the field of computer imagery. She led the development group who were working on creating an algorithm for imaging black holes. This type of imaging is
known as Continuous High-resolution Image Reconstruction using Patch priors (CHIRP). Katie was a member of the Event Horizon Telescope team that captured the first image of a black hole.
The video then showed the picture. It was simple picture. A black hole with a reddish halo around it. It was quite amazing.
“Cool, huh daddy,” my son said.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“Daddy, can I get (my sister and I) some yogurt,” he asked.
“Yes, yes you can,” I said with a great big smile on my face.
It was a week to the day that he finished his virtual camp. I remember hearing something about black holes when I was in the other room pretending not to be. But on this day, he brought this up out of the blue. There is no possible segue from black holes to yogurt, well at least none I can think of right now. Anyway, on to my story.
My son was a part of a week long Virtual Summer Camp hosted by the Telus World of Science. It was called ‘Hello Earthlings’ and the premise was that the camper plays an alien visiting earth. They learn about space, earth, science, and other educational and fun things. When I approached TWOSE about possibly writing a story about the camp, one of the reasons I used was I thought this would be an great way to get insight into online learning. As a family, we still aren’t sure what we will be doing with our child’s education in the upcoming months. My worries were that he would not be engaged enough, and at 90 minute classes I had some concerns. Those concepts were echoed by camp instructor Grace Dumontier.
“I worried about certain campers losing interest or not feeling included, especially when we are virtual,” said Dumontier. “As well, it has been extremely hard to create activities that can be done virtually, that are engaging, related to the camp theme, use little to no supplies and are age appropriate.”
I don’t want to use the phrase ‘to my surprise’ because that would have implied that I had low expectations of what programming the Telus World of Science could come up with. Rather, I would say that I was super pleased with the outcome of the camp on a daily basis. The crafts were accessible and appropriate. The counsellors (Dumontier and Jammie Taranko) showed an abundance of knowledge and caring with Dumontier being an extremely calming presence. Even when I was listening from the other room I could see my child relax as he talked to her. Which brings me to my next point. Sure, it is a ‘camp’ by name, but my son knew he was in his home. As well, I was there. Dumontier elaborates.
“One of my biggest takeaways is that parents have so much more influence on virtual as opposed to in person camps,” she said. “When they drop off their kids and leave them in our care, we obviously have that influence. But when a camper is at home, the parent really affects their behavior. For example, when a parent is in the room they are usually much more attentive and focused. It is obvious to us when parents use the camp as child care and usually have a very hard time
engaging those kids.”
The first day of camp, I noticed this too. One of the ways I alleviated it as the camp went on, was to give my son some headphones; some autonomy. I stopped trying to make him stay in one place. If he wanted to walk around with the phone (we did this over smartphone), I let him. I let him wander in comfort. When it was time for a project, I made sure he had a proper workstation to create in. It was his. I let him set it up, clean it, and prepare for the next day. It was during this that the ‘camp’ feel really started to become real for him and also me.
“When kids start interacting it really makes me feel successful as an instructor,” explained Dumontier. “One moment was when a camper called on others to show her the craft they made. Or when campers don’t want to leave our last session, it makes me sad to leave a relationship I’ve spent the last 5 days building with them.”
My son agreed. His favourite day was the last day, and not because it was the last. But because he enjoyed each day more and more.
“I liked the craft stuff and that we could learn about outer space,” he said. “I know now how they make food and eat in outer space. Grace was super nice and made fun activities. And another thing I learned was always raise your hand.”