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"A Play Area for Science": Successful Science Holidays Summer Program at the JKU

How do I build a robot? How do you operate on a brain? Over 600 children in this year’s Science Holidays program are learning about these things and more.

Science Holidays: Christina Haberlander, Rector Lukas and Corinna Hörmann with children
Science Holidays: Christina Haberlander, Rector Lukas and Corinna Hörmann with children

How do I build a robot? How do you operate on a brain? Why do some leaves glow in the dark? Over 600 children in this year’s JKU Science Holidays program are learning about these things and more, transforming the JKU campus into a playground to explore science.

JKU Rector Meinhard Lukas remarked: "Children grow and thrive when they are allowed to be curious and learn through play. This means providing kids with much needed space to move freely, be active, discover, and conduct research in a playful, age-appropriate way. The JKU Science Holidays program between July 19 and August 13 is an exciting and diverse program of workshops, classroom instruction, and field trips. Children between the ages of six and fourteen are learning about science, technology, law, medicine, business, social sciences, and biology by conducting exciting hands-on experiments, origami and quidditch classes, nutrition workshops, soccer training, and magic shows. There is no space here for boredom."

The second annual JKU Science Holidays program has been made possible through generous funding by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science & Research and the state of Upper Austria. Christine Haberlander, Deputy Governor of Upper Austria and Education Minister, got a first-hand look at the program on site while visiting the workshop "Robotics for Children": "During the summer holidays, some parents need help balancing their jobs with childcare responsibilities. I am please there was a high demand for the program and I would like to thank the JKU for organizing this extra, innovative and wide-ranging program to give our children a playful introduction to science and academia. Perhaps a new scientific career has been inspired!"

Heinz Faßmann, Austrian Minister of Education, added: "Sparking an interest in science at an early age will pay off later when these young scientists become grown-up scientists! The JKU's Science Holidays program is truly helping families with childcare responsibilities during the summer. I would like to thank Rector Lukas for his role in setting this program up."

High Demand
Program manager Bernadette Weinreich has been managing educators and JKU workshop leaders involved in the program since the program began on July 19. Children and teens have been organized into ten small groups of fifteen children each for the entire week. Program organizers received over 1000 applications, proving once again that spots in this year's program were in high demand. The program can accommodate 600 participants and spots in the program were awarded based on a lottery.

Rector Lukas added: "The demand for the JKU Science Holidays program shows how great the need for high-quality childcare options is. Parents and children alike appreciate our playful approach to science in particular. We also aim to encourage this playful approach throughout the year and have created a fantastic space for children called the ‘Circus of Knowledge’. This is a space where kids can attend events and workshops year-round to learn more about science, research, and academia in an entertaining way together with artists, clowns and scientists."

The JKU's Best Minds at Work
Over 40 JKU faculty members from various academic backgrounds are involved in the Science Holidays program. One of these faculty members is university assistant Corinna Hörmann (Department of STEM Didactics at the JKU School of Education) who worked with a team to create a workshop titled "Robotics for Children". Corinna Hörmann remarked: "This workshop allows children to approach the field of robotics in a playful way. They learn how to plan and control child-friendly robots and how these are different from machines. Depending on the kids’ ages, we use BeeBots, ProBots and Ozobots. The children love it and some of them even recognize these from home."

JKU Rector Lukas greatly appreciates everyone’s commitment to the program: "It’s wonderful to experience the cumulative academic efforts at the JKU at this year's Science Holidays program. Many of our faculty members are involved, ranging from a department head at the Faculty of Medicine to high-caliber researchers in the areas of natural sciences and law – and not to forget our active young participants as well! This allows us to offer an exciting, diverse range of workshops and give the children insight into various disciplines but in an age-appropriate way."

The JKU also hired 20 qualified educators and educators-in-training to accompany the groups and mind the children during the JKU Science Holidays program.

Healthy Minds Need Healthy Meals
The JKU Mensa will once again provide lunch this year. Each day, the young researchers can choose different menu items (either meat or a vegetarian option) with soup, salad and a beverage. SPAR headquarters in Marchtrenk generously donated €200 to purchase muesli bars and drinks. Fruit is also available in the afternoon as a snack.

External partners include the Botanical Garden, the Ars Electronica Center, Academica Superior, the Linz Zoo, the Upper Austrian Football School, Maguel the Magician, and the Linz Red Cross (Youth Red Cross). Thanks to sponsorship by the Linz AG in the amount of € 500, groups can use public transportation for field trips, often free of charge.

Safety Mandates and Measures in lieu of the Coronavirus Pandemic
In regard to safety and hygiene in lieu of the coronavirus pandemic, the JKU is following regulations for summer camps as mandated by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education & Research. In addition, JKU rules and regulations in regard to Coronavirus regulations apply (i.e. wearing a face mask and adherence to the Austrian “3G Rule). In addition, children must be tested on a regular basis, group members may not switch and mix with others, lunch is served in accordance with a staggered schedule, there are hand sanitizer stations, caregivers must air rooms out regularly, and the children must wash and disinfect their hands regularly.