I remember feeling uneasy going into the second week of camp; this week’s STEM lessons were all developed and written by us, the DukeEngage cohort. Lisa and I focused our lesson on the importance of sanitation and the lack thereof in poorer countries. We had the girls experiment with and make their own soap as we discussed the parts of a soap molecule and how they work together. When planning the lesson, Lisa and I planned to melt the soap base using a microwave. However, we received a text on Sunday explaining that we would not have access to a microwave at camp the next day. It was time to come up with a backup plan.
On Monday morning, we carried our supplies to the classroom and found a crock-pot in the back slowly boiling water. Our microwave alternative was to melt soup using the double boiler method with the crock-pot and another pot full of the soap base. I wasn’t convinced that this method would actually work, but I put my trust in Lisa and we tried it out with our first group of girls. What we didn’t expect, however, was that these girls notice everything. Someone in each group that week managed to ask, “why is there a crock-pot in the back of the room?” and every time we explained that we had to start cooking our dinner in the morning because it would take too long after work. The girls bought our excuse every time, keeping our soap-making activity a surprise.
The first day of soap-making was not a total success; the girls had issues with the soap base hardening too soon and instead of smooth bars of soap, they ended up with brain-like shapes. I was so disappointed and wanted the lesson to be perfect for the girls, but I took a step back and realized that the girls didn’t mind. They were still excited about their soon to be hardened soaps and were extremely responsive to the material we taught. As the week went on, the lesson improved. Lisa and I began acting out the soap experiments using our bodies to break down the parts of soap and show how it works. We even figured out the perfect system using the crock-pot to get the soap melted in time for the soap-making activity. And we created a last minute activity that exposed the girls to facts about poor sanitation and emphasized why it is so important that we do our part to provide clean water and sanitation facilities.
Although I teach STEM every day at camp, this week felt special because it was a lesson that I was able to develop with another student who has become a great friend. To see the girls engage with our experiments, get excited about the soap, and participate in a thirty minute conversation about sanitation was inspiring and fulfilling. I applied to this DukeEngage program because of the work Girls Inc. does to empower women in STEM and it is the most amazing feeling to directly contribute to their cause while getting to work with the most powerful group of girls.