Genealogy Camp Draws Kids Into STEM Experiential Learning, Thanks to Henry Louis Gates Jr.

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Middle-school kids could become sleuths into their family history — and get drawn into STEM — in a genealogy summer camp planned by Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

9525521972_59f7076b7d_zIt’s a creative approach to bring more kids into science, technology, engineering and math — particularly minority kids and girls, who are underrepresented in those fields.

Gates and fellow researchers plan to develop two-week camps at Pennsylvania State University and the University of South Carolina this summer, and additionally at the American Museum of Natural History in 2017.

Gates is the host of the PBS show “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.,” which opens its third season in January.

As kids delve into their ancestry, they’ll learn about DNA and genetics. They’ll also learn some history and biology, and gain interviewing and archiving skills.

Gates and anthropologist Nina Jablonski of Penn State received a $355,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to develop the curriculum for the camps.

“Our working group consists of more than 30 scholars from a wide range of fields,” Jablonski said in an email, “including three from informal science education and three middle school teacher-educators.”

The genealogy and genetics camps will be run through already-established summer camps at the three locations, Jablonski said.

Genealogy typically has been an adult pursuit, but Gates is banking on its appeal to middle-schoolers.

[Related: Do After-school STEM Programs Lead to Science Careers? Should They?]

"Ancestry chasing through genealogy and genetics is about one thing ultimately and that is you," Gates told the Associated Press. ”And what's your favorite subject? Your favorite subject is yourself.”

The search for family roots could be a springboard for kids into future careers as scientists, professors and mathematicians, Gates told the Associated Press.

The grant will make the camps more affordable to parents, Jablonski said.

“We are recruiting for African-American and Latino campers mostly through networks of teachers and educators in the eastern U.S.,” she said.

Gates and fellow researchers also received a $304,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to offer college courses that teach science through a genealogy approach. Participating colleges are Spelman College and Morehouse College in Atlanta, and North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina.

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