Next level science camp: teaching kids about their genetics & genealogy

Estimated reading time: 3 mins (610 words)

I’ve watched enough American TV to know that summer camp is a thing in the USA.

I was introduced to it through the classic twin movies: It Takes Two and The Parent Trap.

These movies have given me the false expectation that you always meet your twin at summer camp, though…

And the wondrous thing about American summer camps is that they don’t just come in one flavor! There’s band camp, sports camp, adventure camp, space camp, science camp, anything-you-can-come-up-with-camp!

And this summer, I got to see kids doing a very special type of science camp – one that was about genetics and genealogy.

When science is personal, it’s more relatable and understandable

To quote Henry Louis Gates Jr.: “Kids love to study themselves”.


I’m the kind of person who will take time out of their day to click on a headline that says: “Answer these 7 questions and we’ll tell you what flavor of donut your soul is”.

So, let’s just say that I’m a sucker for learning stuff about myself.

And, clearly, I’m not alone! When my advisor, Nina Jablonski, was telling me about this camp, she explained that the idea behind the genetics & genealogy camp was making science personally meaningful.

When you are learning about yourself, you’re invested and you’re curious. And this summer, I saw that these young scientists were truly engaged with all of this material in an amazing way.

Topics like DNA, evolution, and history were no longer a collection of abstract facts, but tools for these kids to answer questions they had about themselves.

What I thought was really amazing about this particular camp was the combination of the genetics with the genealogy. Starting off by thinking about your grandparents and great-grandparents is a great way of showing that (human) evolution is just an extension of history. 

“Here, they called us scientists” – Adalynn

When I heard this, it made me so happy that I nearly cried. Yes, I’m an emotional person. But seriously though, I’m a 25-year old Ph.D. student and this year was probably the first time a professor had referred to me as a scientist.

Letting these kids know they were scientists was so empowering! I honestly think that just by doing that, they’ve been immunized against impostor syndrome (grad students know what I’m talking about, sadly….).


Brandon is the bomb
The camp’s amazing instructor, Brandon Ogbunu, made sure these kids knew _they_ were in charge and could do anything they set their minds to

Watching it all come together: Finding Your Roots – The Seedlings 

While I’m still pretty salty that I couldn’t be snuck in to participate as a slightly older, oversized child, watching the web series following this summer’s camp is arguably the next best thing!

If you are curious about the genetics and genealogy camp, watch the episodes – I promise you’ll love them (I’ve embedded the videos below).

So far, there are three of these 8-minute gems, and the next 5 episodes will come out over the next few weeks. If you want to keep up with this series, bookmark and check out the “episodes” tab, or keep an eye on the PBS website. You can also follow me on Twitter because I will definitely be updating on each and every episode that is released!

Another good reason to bookmark the FYR website is that you’ll find all of the teaching material for each episode as it comes out!

Perfect if you want to bring ‘Finding Your Roots’ to your classroom. (Or if you are like me and want to do this awesome Fruit DNA Extraction thing yourself – why should kids have all the fun????)

So, with that, I’ll leave you to enjoy the episodes:


Tina Lasisi
Tina Lasisi
Postdoctoral Researcher in Biological Anthropology

My research interests include human phenotypic variation in hair morphology and skin pigmentation.