Mythbusters: Summer camp teaches by debunking fairy tales

Mythbusters: Summer camp teaches by debunking fairy tales

URBANA — When you first heard the story of "Jack and the Beanstalk," you probably didn't question the magic beans that sprout to the sky overnight, giants that make bread from human bones and a goose that lays golden eggs.

But some first- and second-graders in Urbana's Science, Engineering, Technology and Math Summer Enrichment Camp are a little more skeptical. They're taking a class called "Mythbusters: Fairy Tale Science."

On Monday, that meant planting their own beans, watering them carefully and setting them in the courtyard at Urbana Middle School, where the camp is located.

Teacher Sandra Osorio asked if she thought they'd sprout overnight, like Jack's beans. Some students thought they wouldn't. A few said they expected some growth, but not as much as Jack's beans grew.

On Tuesday, they'll observe their beans' progress.

During the two-week camp, the students are also analyzing parts of "Little Red Riding Hood," "The Three Little Pigs," "Snow White" and more using the scientific method. They're learning about making careful observations and using what they see to make a prediction with a hypothesis before experimenting.

Then, they draw conclusions based on how an experiment goes.

For example, Osorio and her students re-examined leaves Monday they picked and made hats from, after reading "Tom Thumb" last week.

They observed the leaves and created some hypotheses about what would happen to the leaves after sitting out over the weekend.

On Monday, they found the leaves "crispy" and "crunchy," making noise when the students rubbed the leaves between their fingers.

"Could Tom Thumb really have had clothes made out of this material?" Osorio asked.

The students concluded that most likely, Tom Thumb wouldn't be able to wear such a hat.

Osorio and her students have also observed what happens to model houses made of drinking straws, bundles of toothpicks and Lego bricks (to go along with "the Three Little Pigs") and what happens to organic food encased in glass or plastic, which is on display with copies of "Snow White."

Osorio's classroom also features books that are different versions of the fairy tales she's discussing.

During the school year, Osorio is a second-grade bilingual teacher at Leal Elementary in Urbana.

She said she came up with the idea for the fairy tale mythbusters class when she realized she wanted to teach on a topic that engaged students during camp. The class incorporates both literacy and plenty of hands-on activity.

She found some ideas online for the class and tweaked them for her own use.

Osorio said she likes meeting new students, since those enrolled are from all over the district, and she enjoys hearing students' answers to her questions about fairy tales.

"They have a different way of thinking of things," she said.

During Monday morning's class, Osorio had students constantly asking and answering questions about the fairy tales they're studying.

For example, as she read "Jack and the Beanstalk," she had students searching through the book's illustrations to find Jack as he hid in the giants' castle atop the magic beanstalk.

Osorio also asked the students questions as she read: If Jack heard a rumbling sound as he hid in the castle, what's likely to happen next? Do you think it's smart for Jack to go back to the giant's house after he's already escaped once?

Marina Bowers-Wong, who will also be in first grade next year, said she likes spending time with her friends, and her favorite experiment so far has been making the leaf hats.

Stepheny Ek, who will be a first-grader next year, said she likes the actual experiments in the class the best.

"We get to do all different things," she said.

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vcponsardin wrote on June 11, 2013 at 3:06 pm

What a wonderful idea for a summer camp.  Well done.  But how about also including a section on how to construct and tell a story using analogy, invention, symbolism and allegory?  Huh?  What?  But that's not "science"!  Nope, it's not.  It's the other side of life and just as important.  So while teaching kids the science behind children's stories, why not also teach them about how to articulate, invent, construct, contextualize  and relate stories of their own.  How about teaching them that fairy tales aren't meant to be real and that such stories are meant instead to be allegories that utilize verisimilitude as a way to reconstruct reality in a different and meaningful way.  Imagine teaching them that along with science.  Imagine how much more well-rounded these kids would be.  Imagine how much better thinkers they would be.  Imagine that life is not all about science and that truly great minds understand and appreciate both science and art equally.

Alexander wrote on June 11, 2013 at 6:06 pm

I get that you want to defend the importance of the humanities, but is this really the place to do it?

We already have enough "fairy tales" in this world -- and belief in them that slows or even stops progress in humanity. We also have plenty of *other* opportunities for kids to learn story telling. As a matter of fact, I'd rather not encourage story telling of fairy tales -- the idea that an argument should be based on crafty words rather than rigorous (and quantitative) analysis of data. 

Finally, no, I don't think scientific analysis is more dull or simple than that required in the humanities. Perhaps that's why so few students in this country even *think* they can do STEM work, but so many *think* they can do softer analysis.

vcponsardin wrote on June 11, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Yes, this is as good a place as any to discuss the importance of a well-rounded, open-minded approach to education--one that is not overly focused on the stilted STEM approach--America's pop educational fad du jour. But first, you should attempt to reread my original post for specificity and content.  Clearly, reading comprehension is not one of your strong suits.  A STEM student, I'm guessing?

Alexander wrote on June 11, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Based on your previous posts, I used to think that you were a professor, but now I have my serious doubts. No, your guess is wrong -- moreover I doubt you have any sense whatsoever of STEM reasoning from your (presumably) "well-rounded" education.

rsp wrote on June 17, 2013 at 3:06 am

All that in two weeks, at age six. Right. I'm guessing you don't spend much time with kids.

vcponsardin wrote on June 11, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Beware of the STEM.  It will stunt your intellectual growth.

Alexander wrote on June 11, 2013 at 7:06 pm

That's the kind of crafty writing and argument style that we need to progress this world. 

By the way, I reject your unfounded assertion/circular argument (in your original post that was so full of content and specificity) that "truly great minds" need humanities to be well-rounded.

Danno wrote on June 16, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Many humans go about the entirety of their lives 'thinking' every choice of their's is 'of their own intelligence.' Actually, it's a response to a multiple choice questionaire. Reality is, a 'telescope'/Science helped Copernicus prove that the Sun did not relolve around the Earth; the telescope did not provide the 'thought,' per say; a pondering Philosophical thought led him to it. Chicken or Egg? Wrong! The Thought was first.