Brain Camp

Award Amount: $200.00
Volunteer(s): J. Garrett, S. Garrett
Locations(s): Salt Boys Youth Center, Khalida Al Qurashiya Secondary School for Girls
Dates(s): July 2010
Participants: 55 female students, 25 male students

In July, 2010 we offered two 5-day, 20-hour summer camps to boys and girls in As Salt, Jordan with the aim of developing in them the building blocks of clear, creative, and critical thinking.  The curriculum was built from the ground up with the aim of teaching the following concepts:

  • Basic brain function and the learning process
  • Creativity
  • Effort (Patience and Persistence)
  • Memory
  • Organizing Information (Pattern Recognition)
  • Reasoning
  • Strategy
  • Decision Making (Using Criteria and Priorities)
  • Problem Solving

The camp began with a colorful, fun, and interactive PowerPoint presentation teaching basic brain function and the physical and attitudinal aspects of the learning process.  Students then learned additional “brain facts” by competing in a school-wide scavenger hunt administered by teachers, PCVs, and the school principal.

Each day thereafter, two “cognitive skills” were introduced through group warmups requiring the use of those skills.  Then, again, PowerPoints and interactive discussions were used to teach each concept, after which students practiced what they learned through games, group tasks, and hands-on activities, often in the form of stations.  For example, students practiced creativity by learning the process of brainstorming; they practiced patience and persistence with a series of tactile puzzles and brain teasers; reasoning was taught through an interactive whodunit exercise; and students trained in strategy with games like Chinese Checkers and Blokus.

In addition to cognitive skills, students were taught about healthy eating and “brain foods”—such as berries, fresh vegetables, whole grains, and green tea—and were served these foods each day during a snack break.

The camp culminated in a final project competition in which teams of students created a “pollution solution”—an invention to combat pollution made with a limited set of materials.  The project was designed to require the use of all the cognitive skills we had studied and practiced throughout the week.  Students also performed creative presentations introducing their projects and attempting to convince a panel of “investors” of the merits of their invention.  We saw students create water filtration systems from straws and Pepsi bottles, a cardboard solar powered bus, a tinfoil robot that retrieves litter, and an “ecovillage,” with houses and roads made of recycled materials, as well as many other great projects.

While the opportunity for students to hear and practice English was another component of the camp, great care was taken to ensure that students of all English levels—even those with no English at all—could participate.  All PowerPoint slides were written in Arabic, and counterparts offered translation during presentations and discussions.  Also, games and activities were specifically and carefully chosen to be as visually-oriented as possible, so as to limit the amount of language required to learn each cognitive skill.  To the extent possible, activities were facilitated in Arabic with student-assisted translation when needed.

At the end of camp each student received a certificate and a “Mental Exercise Book,” which contained photocopies of games and activities they could do at home and share with their parents and siblings.  We also included several websites where they could find more “brain-building” games to play online.

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