Celeste and Daniel Ezell are educators who have been organizing Maker Camp for youth in San Anselmo, California for every year that Maker Camp has existed. They began as tutors, operating out of a small space in town. Parents as well as local schools requested that they create new programs. “We began organizing after school programs and home school programs during the school year” explained Celeste. Now they run Chronos Academy out a second-floor space at a church. The private “K-8 micro-school for curious kids” opened two years ago.
“We do a lot of making in our classes,” said Celeste. The school includes classes such as Make History, Make Science and Make Math. Daniel explained that his own Eureka moment around making was putting together bunk beds for his children and realized that the construction process could be engaging in school for kids.
They like to use history in their classes and Maker Camp as both inspiration and a framework for learning about the people and the experiments that generated our current understanding of the world. Daniel is a fan of Bill Gurstelle’s “ReMaking History” (3 Volumes published by Make:). The programming for Maker Camp is “piloting what we’re going to do in the school year,” said Daniel. The coming school year will focus on the period from the Middle Ages to Renaissance, ending with some of DaVinci’s inventions. One week in this year’s Maker Camp is themed “DaVentions.” “What we’re trying to do is test out projects that we’ll be doing during the school year,” said Daniel. “We see how we can streamline them for a group of about 12 students.”
Each of the three weeks of Maker Camp has had about 17 students, which usually breaks up into a younger group and an older group. “We do four activities each day,” said Celeste. “Engineering, Art Exploration, Re-creation — we made swords from pool noodles — and then Tech Lab where we use products like Snap Circuits and Catalyst kits from TinkeringLabs.” Campers can sign up for a week, and some will do the full three-week cycle. “They love it,” said Celeste. Maker Camp also helps them recruit students for the school year.
Maker Camp in San Anselmo runs from 9am to 3pm and they have extended care to accommodate working parents. “We added an hour of Math Club as part of the extended care program,” said Celeste. In one week, 10 of the 17 kids signed up for it. “The ones that weren’t staying for Math Club were jealous,” she added. “We have them do math games like card games and dice games.” Campers get stamps for completing activities in Math Club. “It’s a little external motivation,” Daniel explained. At the end of the week, campers get to go to the stamp store. “They cash in their stamps for prizes,” said Celeste. Some of the Maker Camp schwag in the kit is in the stamp store. “So they’re trying to get Maker Camp pens and pencils,” said Celeste. She’s especially proud to see the kids have a positive experience with math.
In the school year, their math classes teach history alongside the math. “I don’t know anyone else doing this,” said Celeste. “We bring math to the student as a story,” said Daniel. “Here we have Archimedes who died while solving a math problem. How good is that?” He tells the story of Sophie Germain, a student in France in the 1700s who studied math against her parents’ wishes because she read about Archimedes and said to herself that if someone was willing to die for math, it must be really good. “She went to college through a correspondence course, secretly as a man, just to learn math,” Daniel explained. “There are these storylines that just grab you,” he added. “They really make math come alive,” said Celeste.
Not everyone in history is a role model. “Some of the mathematicians are deplorable, and the kids hate them,” said Daniel. “Some of them are wonderful people, but kids learn the math from all of them.” Daniel believes that the most important thing for kids to realize is that “they are not dealing with gods; they are dealing with people who no doubt were smart but these people were answering questions that were at hand and doing their best to address them. They were coming up with solutions that have been canonized as ‘this is how you do it.'”
“We want to them to see that over and over and over again, that all these innovations or discoveries were simply an informed person asking a question no one had asked before (probably) and addressing it with ingenuity,” said Daniel. Celeste said that history can help kids see the process behind the development of mathematics and that they can become part of that process themselves.
“If a student says I don’t know how to do something, we always add the word ‘yet’ and say that they can’t do it yet,” said Daniel. “Yet is a very powerful word.” These campers are encouraged to learn that they can make history, even if they haven’t done it yet.
Here is a gallery of photos from this Maker Camp in San Anselmo:
Photo Credit: Celeste Ezell
Maker Camp is a network of over 350 camps organized by people like Daniel and Celeste Ezell. Check out MakerCamp.com to learn more.