Mr. Science started the morning with a weather report: cloudy with a chance of doughnut holes. And he was right. More than 60 children gathered around as he created a rocket in a 2 liter bottle with vinegar and baking powder. The doughnut holes, placed on top of the rocket, rained down on the group of excited children.
ScienceWorks hosted a day camp this week for 7- to 12-year-olds put on by a San Francisco-based education group called Tree Frog Treks.
Mr. Science, whose real name is Chris Giorni, is founder and director of Tree Frog and says that anyone can do science,
"We teach science as a way of thinking. Asking questions based on what you see," Giorni said.
Tree Frog Trek focuses on children who live in the city and don't have access to nature. They go into schools and share nature and science in classrooms.
In addition to classroom visits Tree Frog Treks operates 10 weeks of destination summer camps in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and offer teacher training that promotes science in the classroom. For the last five years Tree Frog Trek has visited Ashland and held a week-long camp.
"We are giving kids their own freedom to have a childhood that has comfort memories," Giorni said.
Giorni has a background in zoology and evolutionary biology and was a teacher in the Bay Area school system for 10 years. He also worked as an environmental consultant and herbology teacher. His background gives him a unique perspective on teaching children about science.
"It combines service, education and the entertainment or engagement aspects," Giorni said.
In 1999, when Tree Frog Treks first began, the group started an animal rescue aspect to the program. Now they have 127 mobile animals that are shared with children in camps and classrooms.
The Ashland campers at ScienceWorks spent time with Red, a Centralian Carpet Python, and Trucker, a land tortoise. Trucker wears an orange Tree Frogs hat so he doesn't get lost. The children are taught how to handle the animals safely. As more campers arrived at ScienceWorks Giorni got out more animals. Each animal is unfazed by the activity of the children.
"Most of the animals are rescued pets or from museums that we know," Giorni said.
As the children swarmed around the animals Giorni could be heard asking questions and calling out facts about each animal.
Jennie Englund is a professor of composition, writing and critical thinking at Rogue Community College in Medford.
"They're holding creatures they've never seen. Chris is so generous with letting them touch and hold the animals," Englund said. She has helped with the camp for three years. This year she is a den mother to the Silver Iguana group. After the animals are put away the children split up into their groups.
The Silver Iguanas went with Giorni across the street to the Willow Winds Swamp while the others stayed at ScienceWorks with the Woodstock Waterslide and mushroom shaped bouncy house.
"They are learning science with an emphasis on hypothesis," Englund said.
The science that is learned at the swamp is hands-on, literally. Giorni led the children through the swamp emerging at the far end covered in mud.
The philosophy behind Tree Frog Trek's learning style is "self-directed kid play."
"We put it out there and let the kids figure it out," Giorni said.
"You train them and trust them."
He also looks for opportunities for "teaching moments."
"I'm very lucky to be 43 and be in the mind of a 10-year-old," Giorni said.
Tree Frog Treks has two store fronts in San Francisco on Hayes Street and welcomes parents traveling through to stop in. They offer a live animal museum and a Kid's Play Night where parents can drop off their children. For more information visit the Web site at www.treefrogtreks.com.