ELDERSBURG -- When his mother enrolled him in Summer Science Camp, Michael Schofield, 5, heard mainly the "camp" part.
"I thought it would be like you could go outside and catch stuff," Michael said after his first day.
That's what he does in his backyard. He and his sister Candace, 11, catch crawfish and frogs in the creek behind their home in Sykesville, watch them for a while, then let them go.
That kind of observation of the natural world is what science instruction should be, say Hood College professors and Carroll County kindergarten teachers involved in the science camp at Carrolltowne Elementary School.
About 105 first-graders-to-be from South Carroll are participating the two-week camp, but they're not the only ones doing the learning.
The real purpose is to train kindergarten teachers to include more hands-on science projects and science-related themes throughout the curriculum.
As part of their training, they are trying out teaching methods and projects on the children. Their instructors are two Hood College professors, Paul Hummer and Dean Wood.
The cost of the program is covered by a three-year grant of $253,000 from the National Science Foundation, which rarely awards money for elementary school-based programs, said Gary Dunkleberger, director of curriculum.
Twenty teachers are in training, and the plan is to train all kindergarten teachers by the end of the three-year grant. There are about 60 now, and the number may increase as more children enter the system.
Patricia Fallon, who teaches at Piney Ridge Elementary, sat with a group of four children on the first day looking at an aquarium with only water and sand in it.
"Tomorrow, you're going to add something living," she told them. She asked what could live in an aquarium. "A crayfish," said Michael.
The living things supplied by the school were snails, guppies, duckweed and elodea. The plants are important, because children often don't think something is alive if they can't see it move, said Mr. Hummer.
Sure enough, when he asked one boy how he knew the snail in front of him was real, the boy said, "Because it's moving."
Mr. Hummer said his workshops for teachers suggest that they culminate a unit on water life by visiting a real pond and by bringing in plants and animals to add to the aquarium in class.
For example, he said, Michael could bring a crawfish from his backyard creek.
Seeing, touching and smelling duckweed, snails and other things make science lessons more real to children, said teacher Karen Watts of Freedom Elementary.
"Rather than just having them look in a book, they can see it, touch it. With this approach, they're able to incorporate their senses rather than just being told," Miss Watts said.
"Science is not a static body of knowledge to be memorized," Mr. Wood said. "Rather, science is a dynamic activity."
Mr. Wood showed teachers how to develop a lesson on liquids, using common household items such as oil and vinegar.
While some of the teachers said they had learned similar approaches to science education in college, they said the workshop offers the unique opportunity to try lessons out on small groups of children first.
Elementary curriculum supervisors Bo Ann Bohman and Michael Perich wrote the grant, and said that kindergarten teachers often are more grounded in language arts and subjects other than science.
The workshops are a chance to make up for that, they said. "I didn't have a course specifically for science education," Mrs. Fallon said.
After the summer, the teachers will team up and visit each other throughout the year to discuss how their lessons are going. A few of them will volunteer to keep in their rooms a network of plants and animals to be distributed among the group for lessons. "They're going to make this thing work," Mr. Hummer said.