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A Science Odyssey Title 'Sending Messages' Title

Camp-In Overview | Activity Summaries | Making Connections | Getting Started | Wrapping Up | Sample Camp-In Schedule | Chronology |

Camp-In Curriculum: Introduction

Sending Messages was developed by The Museum of Science, Boston for A Science Odyssey.

Camp-in Overview

An overnight program gives young people time to slow down, take a closer look, and "do science." Sleeping overnight in a museum, library, or club gives youth a special sense of ownership and comfort with science.

This curriculum is for a camp-in designed to complement the PBS Science Odyssey Project. It includes information and activities to help young people, ages 9-14, explore how developments in science and technology throughout the twentieth century have changed our understanding of the world. Several core themes unite all of the Science Odyssey resources:

  • Science is a human endeavor.
  • Science cannot be separated from its historical, cultural, and social contexts.
  • Science is a way of asking questions and finding answers.
  • In scientific investigations, failure can be as important as success.
  • Scientific and technological answers to a problem sometimes create new problems.
  • The search for answers never ends.

These experiments and activities present the core themes of the project in a way that is fun and appealing to young people.

The concepts presented illustrate a diversity of scientific disciplines -- telecommunication, computers, genetics, and everyday technology. At the same time a common theme, sending messages, runs through the activities. Telecommunications equipment, computers, and our genes all take small bits of very simple instructions and package them together with millions of other bits of information and instructions to produce complex results. They all transmit information using codes and signals.

Each section begins with a brief introduction, including some historical background, basic scientific concepts, and glimpses into some science stories from the twentieth century. Instructors may weave these stories into their discussions, or may be inspired to seek out other stories that campers might find interesting.

Please be aware that the camp-in was originally developed for educators in science museums who are already familiar with the overnight format and are knowledgeable about many of these topics. Additional information about each topic may be found in the resources listed at the end of this curriculum and in many other sources.

Preceding the activities are some relevant benchmarks for science literacy. These benchmarks have been identified by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Project 2061,[1] and are being used by schools and institutions throughout the country as guidelines for educators. They help educators better understand children's intellectual development by outlining concepts children should know, what they should be learning, and what may be beyond their developmental level. A few relevant benchmarks are included in each section to help instructors recognize important concepts found in this curriculum.

The experiments and activities are then described in detail, with materials lists, background specific to each activity, and step-by-step procedures. The final section of the curriculum includes additional resources, a master list of materials and sources, and references to help you find additional information.

We at A Science Odyssey hope these pages will be useful to a variety of people and organizations. The logistics of a large group overnight program or the scientific concepts may be new to some readers. Experienced educators and institutions with well-established overnight programs may already be familiar with some of these ideas. This isn't a cookbook. Please improvise, do your own research, add new questions, and modify these ideas to suit the needs of your program and audience. We hope everyone will find something to spark an interest, stimulate thinking about the astonishing scientific developments of the twentieth century, and encourage sharing the fun and excitement of exploring science with young people.

During the course of the camp-in, campers will have the chance to practice a variety of scientific skills -- observing, classifying, modeling, experimenting, and drawing conclusions. There is no one way or right answer. Our goal is to give campers many opportunities to do science and to have fun!

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Activity Summaries

1. Telecommunication
One hundred years ago electronic telecommunication was in its infancy. Radios and telephones were rare. Televisions, fax machines, and Internet connections did not exist. The earliest form of long distance electric communication was the telegraph, developed in the 1830s. Using simple materials, campers will experiment with building circuits, lighting a bulb, and making an electromagnet. As they experiment with the challenge of sending an electric signal just a few meters, they can begin to understand more complex, modern technologies.

2. Computers
At the beginning of the century computers were mechanical devices or people with paper and pencils. Punch cards delivered simple instructions to machines. Today, electronic computers are an integral part of our lives in schools, offices, stores, banks, and supermarkets. Campers will practice giving specific instructions, modeling how computers rely on the precise instructions of human programmers, and build simple circuit boards.

3. Genetics
In 1900 people were just beginning to suggest that some "factors," located on chromosomes, determine hereditary traits. Until 50 years ago, DNA was not identified as the carrier of genetic information. Today we can isolate specific genes and determine their function. Campers will observe and classify the variation and similarity in a population of people and play a game modeling inheritance.

4. Everyday Technology
We take for granted most of the modern appliances and machines we see every day, such as radios, telephones, hair dryers, televisions, cassette players, CD players, and computers. Campers will be invited to a Take Apart Shop, where they have permission to take apart old or broken things, see what's inside, and try to figure out how they work. This is an ideal opportunity to involve practicing scientists, engineers, or mechanics to share their technical expertise and knowledge.

5. Putting It Together -- Camper Survey
Bringing together elements from the other curriculum areas, campers will do some simple experiments, make observations, and create a database of information about themselves. Some survey questions may be about genetic traits such as "Can you roll your tongue?" Others may require students to do a simple experiment such as testing their reaction time. Groups are encouraged to communicate their results, pool their data, analyze it, compare the answers, and draw conclusions.

Campers participating in the national Camp-In will share their data with others across the country using computers and telecommunications technology.[3]

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Making Connections

Although the curriculum is divided into sections, the sections overlap, and many activities are multidisciplinary. Send a Message in the Telecommunications section demonstrates a pattern of on-off signals that can be interpreted by a human receiver. Computers recognize similar on-off signals. It's as easy as 1, 2, 3 is an activity modeling a set of computer instructions, but can also model how DNA is a set of instructions for making proteins. Campers can see how small variations in both genetic and software instructions may have dramatic results. Unique You is found in the Genetics section to help participants practice observing and classifying attributes, but the activity also demonstrates a binary sorting system similar to methods used by computers. The Take Apart Shop is an opportunity for campers to see actual circuit boards inside modern machines like the ones they build in Circuit Boards . Encourage students to think about the connections between all their experiments.

There is a natural progression to some activities. For example, Make an Electromagnet makes more sense if participants have already experimented with simple circuits. Face It introduces concepts of inheritance and dominance that can help campers interpret the survey data they collect later. However, there are many possible orders and sets of activities from this curriculum. Structure this Camp-In in a way that works best for your museum.

A common theme ties everything together. Telecommunication devices, computers, and our genes all use complex coded signals to send messages and communicate information.

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Getting Started

An opening welcome is an important event that will set the tone for the program, let participants know what to expect, and plant the seeds for their science investigations. It is also an opportunity to introduce the Science Odyssey Project. Here are some examples of what you might say:

Welcome campers!
During the few hours we're together tonight, we're going to take a journey through 100 years. That's a century. Specifically, we're going to travel through our century, the twentieth century, which began in 1900 (or 1901, if you want to get technical), and is coming to a close in just a few years. Not only will the twentieth century end, but the millennium will change -- from 19xx to 20xx! It's a time to think about where we've been, where we are today, and where we're going (or would like to go) as we move into the future.

In the twentieth century, science and technology advanced more than in all previous centuries combined, and virtually every scientific discipline revolutionized its most basic theories and knowledge.

Our journey at this camp-in is part of a larger national project, called A Science Odyssey. People all over the country are taking part in this same camp-in. A Science Odyssey is a new project that includes a special television series on PBS and a wide range of related activities for you, your teachers, and your friends and families. (Weave in information about A Science Odyssey)

At tonight's camp-in, we're going to explore several areas of science, including electricity, computers and genetics. But they're all connected, because everything we do will be about sending messages -- specifically, how information is transmitted and what we've learned about communication over the past 100 years.

What do you think about when you think about communication? (Sample answers might be talking, telephone, TV, radio, computers.) All of these are correct, and we're going to explore HOW things like the telephone and computer are part of communication. We're also going to explore how information in our bodies is communicated and how that information makes each of us a unique individual.

Ask campers to reflect on what life might have been like 100 years ago. At the turn of the century, some prosperous houses were electrified, but most were still lit by gas or oil lamps. Ice was delivered once a week and stored in the ice box. Rich people had running water and toilets, but most working people washed in their bedroom with a pitcher and bowl and used a privy out back. It was major work to fill a tub with hot water, so most folks made a Saturday night bath in the kitchen. There may have been a telephone at the bank, and local newspapers kept you up to date with stories that came in over telegraph lines. These are just some of the things that typified much of the United States in 1900. An introduction to the camp-in is an opportunity to incorporate other Science Odyssey resources, such as a video clip or the science demonstration.

Throughout the program, share ideas and brainstorm with campers how science and technology affect us everyday.

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Wrapping Up

Along with continued reinforcement throughout the program, an organized wrap-up reinforces the threads connecting the activities. Encourage campers to think about how our increased knowledge in one area informs our understanding of something completely different. Here are some ways you can help campers continue to think about what they've learned:

We've had a GREAT night!
We've experimented with batteries, bulbs, circuits, electromagnets, heredity, and more. What do all of these have in common? (They are different ways to store and transmit information.) How is genetic information like digital information?

This is the time to review the campers' survey. Did any patterns emerge? Share any graphs or charts you've compiled. Verbally go over a few interesting statistics; for example, what percentage of the campers have detached earlobes? How could computer technology help you further analyze the data? How could you share your data with other scientists?[4]

Ask campers to think about the future. We've seen some of the amazing changes in science and technology from the past 100 years. We've gone from the days of gas lamps and telegraphs to fiber optic networks, cell phones, and the Internet. All of this is twentieth-century science. What are some of the things in your life that would not be possible without twentieth-century discoveries?

Tell participants: You are the future -- our future scientists, engineers, teachers, technicians. You'll be shaping our future. What new developments can you imagine in telecommunication technology or genetic research? What do you think will happen in the next 20 years, or even the next 100 years?

If you've had fun here tonight and want to continue to explore activities related to A Science Odyssey, there are several things you can do:[5]

  • Bring your family and friends back to see the play and/or the demonstration (if applicable).
  • Visit a local library or bookstore to get the book, "A Science Odyssey: 100 Years of Discovery", written by Charles Flowers.
  • See if a local Boys & Girls Club, church, or other community organization has developed activities around A Science Odyssey.
  • Ask your science or social studies teacher if she or he is using Science Odyssey videos or material from the Science Odyssey Educator's Guide.
  • Join Science-By-Mail®
  • Ask your local PBS station when it will air A Science Odyssey, and watch it with your family.
  • Check out the Science Odyssey Web Site at < >.
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Sample Camp-in Schedule

The ideas and experiments described here have been designed with an overnight program in mind. The following sample schedule is for a full program, packed with activities, taking advantage of several other Science Odyssey resources. It assumes a large group of campers divided into three smaller groups for some activities. However, there are many possible variations. You may choose to extend the workshop length or omit an activity. A group might choose to do some experiments in the morning or continue later into the night instead of offering the late night Science Demonstration.

This curriculum is also intended to be useful to other types of programs such as workshops or school programs. Please adapt the ideas and information to suit your audience and schedule.

5:00 - 6:00 PM Register and explore the museum
6:30 PM Opening Welcome -- An introduction to the program
Video clip from A Science Odyssey series
7:00 - 9:00 PM Science Workshops
Telecommunication Computers Genetics
7:00 - 7:35 group A group B group C
7:45 - 8:20 group B group C group A
8:30 - 9:00 group C group A group B
9:00 - 10:30 PM Drop-In Activities
Take Apart Shop
Camper survey stations
10:45 PM Pick up gear and set up campsite
11:15 PM Life Beyond Earth, a science demonstration[6]
after 12:00 Lights out


7:00 AM Wake up! Pack up gear and eat breakfast
8:30 AM Wrap Up -- Discuss the results of camper survey
Matters of the Heart, Science Theater play6
10:00 AM camp-in officially ends

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This is a brief time line highlighting a few major developments.[2] It is not meant to be shared with campers, nor to represent a comprehensive description of each development. Instead, instructors may use this to get an idea of how our understanding of communication technology has grown, and as a stepping stone in discussions with the campers.

1647 Calculator. French mathematician Blaise Pascal develops a mechanical "calculator" using cogs, wheels, and cranks.

1800 First battery. While skinning dead frogs in an anatomy lesson, a pupil sees one of them twitch. Alessandro Volta demonstrates that the steel scalpel and the zinc workbench form a simple electric cell, and the cell's current makes the frog's muscles contract. Following these principles, Volta makes the first battery. It is a pile of zinc and copper plates interleaved with brine-soaked cloth.

1821 Electric motor. Michael Faraday demonstrates a simple device, in which a current-carrying wire rotates around a magnet; though crude, it is the first device to turn electricity into movement.

1837 Telegraph. The first electric telegraph is invented by William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone. The telegraph attracts great interest in 1845, when it is used to transmit a description of a murderer seen boarding a train: police arrest him on arrival. This telegraph has limited success, unlike the Morse telegraph developed a little later.

1844 Morse code. To transmit all the letters of the alphabet, Cooke and Wheatstone's transmitter needed five wires. American Samuel Morse reduces this to just one wire, sending letters in a code of dots and dashes. At least 62 people claim credit for the telegraph, but it is named after Morse, who sends the first "Morse Code" message from Washington to Baltimore in 1844.

1866 Transatlantic communication. An underwater telegraph cable links Europe and the US, making communication between the two continents nearly instantaneous at a time when the fastest ships take 11 days for the crossing.

1876 Telephone. When Alexander Graham Bell develops the telephone, the first words he speaks on it are heard after he spills battery acid on his pants. He urgently shouts for help from his assistant -- "...come here, I want you!"

1879 Incandescent electric lamp. The principle of the light bulb was known long before Thomas Edison develops the first successful one.

1882 Home lighting. Electric lighting becomes a reality in the home, and some city dwellers begin using telephones. Neither invention becomes widespread until well into the 1900s.

1906 Vacuum tube. The vacuum tube is invented.

1920 Commercial radio. The first US radio station goes on the air -- KDKA Pittsburgh.

1926 Television. John Logie Baird demonstrates a black and white "televisor," but his system cannot broadcast sound and picture together.

1935 Tape recorder. Magnetic sound recording began in 1898, but it is not practical until the German company I.G. Farben produces a magnetic tape in 1935.

1945 The computer age begins. ENIAC, the first fully electronic computer weighs 30 tons and fills the space of a gymnasium. By 1995, more power will be packed into a 10-pound laptop.

1947 The transistor. This unimposing piece of plastic and wire starts a miniaturizing trend in electronics. By the mid-1950s, the radio will shrink in size from a heavy piece of furniture to a pocket-sized portable.

1953 Structure of DNA. Using work by Rosalind Franklin and others, James Watson and Francis Crick show that the "blueprint for life" is shaped like a spiral staircase.

1956 Television trends. Americans buy almost 40 million television sets, up from about 15 million just five years before. The most popular show? "I Love Lucy," in glorious black and white.

1956 Prerecorded television. Alexander M. Pontiatoff, a Russian-born engineer working in the US, finds a way to record a TV show on a piece of magnetic tape. The first US TV show recorded for later broadcast is "Doug Edwards and the News."

1959 Integrated circuit. The ready-wired integrated circuits, or silicon chips, used in the 1990s are simultaneously invented by Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments and Bob Noyce at Fairchild Semiconductor.

1963 Cassette tape recorder. Electronics company Phillips patents the tape cassette in 1963, but then makes the design available free of charge to encourage its adoption as a world standard. Early cassette recorders have poor sound quality, and the slow tape speed creates a hiss.

1969 Machine-readable characters. Teaching a machine to read is a challenging task -- unless you write in letters that it can understand. Farrington Data Co. of the US does just this when it produces a special alphabet and an optical character reader (OCR) in the 1950s. OCR is widely accepted when IBM produces a reader in 1969. By the end of the century, the most common use of OCR letters will be on credit card slips and checks.

1972 Home video game. The world's first home video game is a simulation of table tennis called "Odyssey" invented in the US by Ralph Baer. (A different version is known as "Pong.") Though crude by 1990s standards, the game is absorbing.

1975 Computer trends. The first production (not home-made) personal computer is introduced, the Altair 8800. Within 20 years, two out of five US households will have a computer.

1983 Fiber-optics. Fiber-optic networks are developed.

1984 Genetic fingerprinting. Just as everyone has different fingerprints, so too each of us has a unique pattern of DNA. A British geneticist, Alec Jeffreys, suggests that DNA patterns can be used for identification purposes. Suspected criminals can be identified by the DNA in material such as saliva or hair left at the scene of a crime.

1990s Welcome to cyberspace! The Internet links millions of people around the world. But some worry that the gap between technology haves and have-nots is growing wider.

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[1] The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Project 2061. Benchmarks for Science Literacy. Oxford University Press. New York. 1993.
[2] some entries taken from Platt, Richard. Smithsonian Visual Timeline of Inventions. Dorling Kindersley. New York. 1994.
[3] A national Science Odyssey Camp-In is planned for January 23, 1998. Thousands of campers at 16 pre-selected sites across the country will do these activities and share information. A special camp-in Web page will be available on the Science Odyssey Web Site from January 30, 1998 through June 1998 at <>. For more information contact: or Educational Print and Outreach, WGBH, 125 Western Avenue, Boston, MA 02134.
[4] If possible, check the Science Odyssey Web Site at <>.
[5] Information about these resources can be found from the "Resources for Educators" menu.
[6] These are optional presentations developed as part of the Science Odyssey Project that museums can choose to include in their program. The demonstration and Science Theater play can be found from the "Resources for Educators" menu.

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