Winchester Thurston Jr. Geologists & Ecosystem Science Lab Summer Camp

Eco Explorers had an amazing 2 weeks of Jr. Geologists and Ecosystems Science at Winchester Thurston North! Our Explorers hailed from all over western PA and even a few of us came from other countries to take part in the awesome summer adventures at Winchester! Our Jr Geologists solved plate tectonic puzzles, studied minerals and crystals under a microscope, cracked geodes and made our own, recreated volcanic eruptions, built earthquake proof skyscrapers to test on our earthquake table, modeled an oil drilling operation, even transformed our classroom into a Californian gold and mineral panning camp from 1848 for a day. We went to mars on our last day of camp to study the geology of planets beyond our own. We and designed, built and raced mars rovers and tested three samples of Martian soil for life using methods we thought might show potential life in soil.

We made a special discovery during our fossil hunt this year. About 300 million years ago, when our local rocks were forming, plants became well represented as fossils in the muddy swampy terrain because the bacteria that could recycle the tough materials in the plants wasn’t very sophisticated yet at breaking them down when they died. Insects are a bit harder to find as good, complete fossils because their bodies tended to get scattered or destroyed so it was very exciting to find a complete beetle fossil in the very good condition that we found it in this summer!


During our Ecosystems Science lab, the Eco Explorers began the week with a puzzle introducing us to the fascinating and often bizarre life forms that have come,gone and changed over the long history of the earth. We devised an anti-venom for a mock snakebite, discovered how fascinating early life forms changed our atmosphere, tested crafts powered by solar and wind energy, devised a plan to make our water safe after an oil spill in our model. We took a tour of campus to identify interesting poisonous edible and medicinal plants and found sassafras, a deadly cousin of the tomato – horsenettle, a plant that is being used in cancer research – pokeweed, blackberries, the plant that killed Abraham Lincoln’s mom and a whole bunch of other neat plants!

We learned how to test for pH and nutrients in the soil, peered at hitch hiker seeds under the microscope and headed to Winchester Thurston’s little pond to test the water for evidence of an algae explosion and played a game to understand why an algae explosion in the water could lead to a “crash”. We made a cell to take home, built a biome and had a great time learning about the biodiversity of living things!

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South Fayette Elementary Eco Engineers Summer Camp

IMG_20150721_153845South Fayette Elementary students had an awesome week of engineering during Eco Engineers! Our week of camp was chock full of exciting challenges that had campers putting their heads together to come up with creative solutions! During one of our favorite activities, campers took to the drawing board with ideas to make an earthquake proof tower. We had to consider what sorts of design elements would be the most successful when our towers were stress tested on the earthquake table. Like real engineers, we had to consider how to create tensile strength that could endure forces acting upon our structures. We considered how the height of our structure could introduce new challenges, and even how “style” is a real-world consideration that professionals must consider when designing a tower. IMG_20150716_114728

Our campers considered a variety of options to clean up an oil spill in our model. We learned about and tried out mini versions of the current real world solutions for such a catastrophe, including some chemical responses – surfactants to break oil down and polymers to turn the spill into jelly – as well as mechanical measures for cleanup like the use of booms, skimmers and barriers. Our campers found that cleaning an oil spill is no easy task! IMG_20150724_152331

We brought creativity to the design process of our race cars. Using recyclables and reusables, we considered how, as engineers, we could make a racer that could not only move with ease, but could also withstand a test crash and keep our crash test dummy safe! We also examined the role of physical forces on our motorless mobiles – how might an inclined plane affect the potential and kinetic energy related to our cars? What role does inertia play in our crash test? Campers had a great time creating, crashing, revising, racing, and crashing their creations again!

Check out our racer videos!