ACOM science camp

Dr. Fred Helms leads a group of students in a drum circle as they learn about hearing and wellness during a science camp at ACOM on Wednesday.

Most people know about the five senses: vision, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. But, few outside the medical field are familiar with the sixth sense called proprioception.

“Proprioception, the sixth sense, everyone is typically oblivious of,” said Dr. Thomas McNary, assistant professor of anatomy at Alabama’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. “If you close your eyes and touch your nose, proprioception is the sense that allows you to touch your nose without sticking your finger in your eye. You know where your finger is with your eyes closed. I don’t see it, but I know my finger is where my finger is because I’ve got proprioception.”

Seventh through twelfth graders from the Wiregrass area had the opportunity to better understand all six senses and how they relate to health and wellness at ACOM’s second annual science camp.

Altogether, more than 150 students from six surrounding counties participated in one of the three days of camp, each with the same six workshops, to learn more about science and healthcare through immersive and other hands-on activities.

“We’ve got some virtual reality and some optical illusions and we’re helping them see, at least with that visual activity, the limits of vision, like why is it when you look at helicopter blades, they appear to go backward at some point, and then they look like they’re going really slow,” McNary said. “You know they’re not, because all that wind is blowing at you, but it’s all because of the limits of their vision.”

During the interview, a group of students were participating in a workshop called “Ear drums, hear drums.” They were learning about how noise can damage hearing when it reaches a certain decibel and other reasons for hearing loss, ear anatomy using models, and tools doctors use to check the ears like the otoscope.

They also learned why using cotton swaps to get wax out their ears might not be the best idea.

Later, they learned about ear drums by sitting in a drum circle, beating on them at a rhythmic pace at varying sound levels.

“I really enjoy working with youths in these small groups, seeing their minds working through the questions that I ask and I think it’s really enjoyable,” McNary said.

Students also learned about the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems and nerve density. Students were taught how to regulate stress levels using yoga and breathing techniques.

“I learned how to slow my heart beat and make it faster,” Scarlett Law, a 12-year-old from Abbeville, said excitedly immediately after the lesson.

Another girl who just took part in the “Don’t be Nervous” session, Addie Hadsepth, 16, from Headland, said she learned that controlling your heart rate is important, “in case you’re stressed out about anything, you can calm yourself down.”

They also shared what they learned about pharmaceuticals, – what different medicines did for their health and how fast they worked against bacteria and viruses.

Hudspeth said she got valuable lessons out of the “It’s Hot Outside” and “What’s in the Pantry?” workshops that taught the health benefits of sweating, and importance of hydration and nutrition – lessons she will take home with her to use in daily life.

“(I learned) definitely when working and stuff and exercising, not to drink Gatorade; it’s better to drink water and a snack just to stay hydrated and nourished,” Hadpseth said.

Law said she also got the most of the nutrition seminar, where she learned about how much of different kinds of nutrition, like protein and fats, should be in an individual’s diet.

“We had a pan of food, we had to guess what the correct portions were and we had to get a cup and estimate what the correct portion were for a single person,” Law said.

Last year, ACOM science camp attendees learned how to use the scientific method to form hypotheses and conduct experiments. This year’s camp was meant to build onto those principles by helping students to consider how to use the truths they’ve learned in healthcare and apply it to their own lives.

“We’re just trying to help them understand their bodies better and how they can care for their bodies better by understanding its limits,” said McNary, one of the event coordinators for the science camp.

The camp was made possible by financial support from the Southeast Health Foundation, which provides t-shirts, lunches, and learning materials, as well as ACOM faculty and student volunteers who led the interactive lessons.

“I’ve gathered that rural Alabama doesn’t have as much access to some of these programs – to science,” McNary said. “But, that doesn’t mean we can’t help expose the youth to science given our background in science. It’s just nice being able to share, kind of give back to the community that gives us so much support.”

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