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Camp in a Can Insect Adventures

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Review Synopsis: by afterschool program expert Sara Granovetter

Camp in a Can is a structured, preplanned set of activities, perfect for afterschool instructors with little preparation time. Each activity is educational and entertaining. Usually the activity reinforces or builds upon the knowledge gained in the corresponding science lesson. However, a few of the activities are purely for entertainment with little educational value. The activities appeal to a range of learning styles and personalities, and the busy schedule ensures that students will never grow bored or distracted. The one major drawback of this program is that many of the activities require a large grassy area and at least seminatural surroundings (to collect bugs). This may not be viable for urban afterschool programs.
Full Review:
Camp in a Can: Insect Adventure is a prepackaged, preplanned, and pre-fabricated set of activities for the overextended teacher. It includes all of the materials necessary for 12 students to complete five days of two and a half hour classes. The activities teach children (and adults) fascinating facts about insects and other small critters, encourage cooperation, and provide creative and entertaining stimulation. Each activity is different, appealing to different personality types and learning styles. Unfortunately, many of the activities require a good deal of space and natural surroundings, making Camp in a Can difficult to implement in the urban afterschool context.

Overall, Camp in a Can has great educational value. Each activity builds upon knowledge acquired from previous activities. Students begin the program by building an insect out of Styrofoam balls, toothpicks, and pipe cleaners, learning about the structure of an insect's body and appendages in the process. In the next activity, students use this knowledge to decide which plastic toys are insects and which are not.

Activities begin with an interesting fact or anecdote about insects. Many of these are fascinating, even for adults. The activities reinforce the concepts by allowing students to experience many phenomena first hand. For example, the "Honeybee Hula" teaches that bees communicate through an elaborate dance. After learning about how the dance works, pairs of students attempt to communicate the location of an imaginary flower by performing the dance for each other.

A few of the activities, although entertaining, have less educational value. For example, "Housefly Hang-ten" teaches children that flies' feet are equipped with sticky pads to let them to walk on vertical surfaces or upside down. However, the activity—throwing sticky gelatinous bug toys at the wall—does not really serve to reinforce or build upon this knowledge.

This program gets high marks for being loads of fun. Each activity engages a different part of the brain and appeals to a range of learning styles. They integrate dance, creative writing, painting, arts and crafts, physical activity, competition, and even eating. The prewritten program schedule leaves zero downtime between activities, so students are unlikely to get bored or distracted.

Beyond its informational and entertainment value, this program takes into account the psychosocial development of participants. Many of the activities involve intense cooperation and partner work. For example, in "Spider's Web Run," students stand in a circle and all cooperate to make a spider's web out of yarn. In addition, the makers of Camp in a Can are careful to stress the importance of not harming live insects when collecting them for activities. At the end of each activity, students are instructed to return the insects to where they were collected. These guidelines teach respect for life, large and small.

The name Camp in a Can highlights this program's strongest selling point: ease of use. Indeed, the kit comes with an instructor's DVD, activity guidelines, almost all required materials (pre-cut and pre-measured), and even a detailed schedule. Each activity is self-contained in a clearly labeled resealable plastic bag. However, some of the activities that appear simple are actually somewhat difficult to implement. The instructions, designed to be brief and straightforward, do not always provide enough guidance. Diagrams and images of the activity in various stages of development would be helpful.

The one major drawback of Camp in a Can is that it is not designed for an urban afterschool environment. As the name implies, Camp in a Can is meant for summer camps, which are assumed to take place in natural settings. Therefore, the program requires that students have access to a large grassy area and natural surroundings where they can collect insects. Inner-city afterschool programs may not have access to these settings. It may be possible to complete some of the activities as part of a field trip, but this takes time and money that many programs do not have.

Overall, Camp in a Can is a good value for afterschool programs that have access to natural or semi-natural surroundings (a city park could work). Although these activities can only be implemented once, many of them can lead to extended inquiry. The program is educational and entertaining for students, and requires virtually no preparation by instructors.