Enabling Active STEM Learning
  • Strategy: Developing STEM Practices & Mindset
  • Skill: Enabling Active STEM Learning
  • Date: March 1, 2022

Designing a Memorable Summer Science Camp: Survive the Zombie Apocalypse

Designing a Memorable Summer Science Camp: Survive the Zombie Apocalypse

Science Camp Snapshot

It was the end of the week and all the youth put on a showcase of accomplishments for their families. Some stumbled across the stage dressed in perfect undead makeup and costumes as zombies. Others demonstrated their pop can fishing poles they designed to survive and forage for food. A small group of youth gave a lecture about the parts of the brain and brought out a gelatin brain mold they used to illustrate their points. Another showed how a solar oven worked to cook food.

Designing a Science Camp

Survive the Zombie Apocalypse Camp has to be my favorite science camp I co-designed of all time. My goal was to create an immersive, memorable, informative, and fun science camp for elementary age students. Here is the description:

Survive the Zombie Apocalypse: Entering grades 1-5. Test your ability to outsmart and outrun the undead. Sharpen your hunting, foraging and orienteering skills. Work in teams to build a shelter and a solar oven. Disguise yourself as a zombie and investigate the inner workings of the human brain.

I researched competing camps, brainstormed popular trends with coworkers, and collaborated with fellow instructors to design content. “Walking Dead” was enormously popular, as were a surge of survival type programs. I wanted to combine science content with theatre, engineering, and art. I made a list of instructors who would be creative and bring a diverse group of backgrounds and skills to the table. The result was amazing.

Throughout the week, youth learned new skills, built relationships with each other and instructors, and overcame challenges together. An anatomy professor brought actual human brain slices to show youth and led a discussion about how the brain works. The youth finished by creating gelatin brain molds and consuming them as zombies while saying each part of the brain. A theatre instructor worked with students to show them how to apply makeup and create a costume to blend in with the zombies. An aikido instructor worked with youth to teach self-defense to fend off the zombies. A competitive teen archer showed youth her archery skills and then the youth designed their own bows and arrows to test to fend off the zombie hoard. At a nearby lake, youth designed fishing poles from found objects like pop (soda) cans to catch fish. They learned about solar ovens and made their own to cook food. By the end of the week, they had an arsenal of survival skills. The thing they kept saying was, “that was sooo much fun! I can’t wait to do it again next year.” Survive the Zombie Apocalypse Camp is now in its fourth year running and is one of the most popular camps offered.

Questions to Consider

If you could design a memorable science camp, what would you do? How would frame the skills and content learned? What kind of environment would you create for youth to engage all senses? Which experts would you bring to add depth and create community connections? How would you combine science with other disciplines to engage the most youth? What challenges can you include to promote team building and youth leadership opportunities? Is this camp something you wish you could take?

The youth and the teen archer demonstrating how to use a bow and arrow, and the difference between accuracy and precision.

The aikido self-defense workshop where students learn physics of force to fend off the zombie hoard.