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Of Note: This weekend, students will ‘learn anything’ at MIT Splash

With more than 2,500 middle and high school students from around the country expected to attend, this year’s event will be largest ever.
On the weekend before Thanksgiving, more than 2,500 middle and high school students from Massachusetts and across the country will come to the MIT campus to take classes in subjects ranging from black holes to Egyptian mythology, “Cheesecakeology” to design and analysis of roller coasters. They’re coming for the MIT Splash, a high-energy student-run program that shows why learning is fun. With more than 2,500 students expected to attend, this year’s event will be the largest since its creation more than two decades ago.

Splash has been run every year since 1988 by the MIT Educational Studies Program, a volunteer student group. Run by students, for students, Splash is a chance to learn just about anything. The program is so successful that over one out of every five students at Splash 2008 reported that they learned “more than a whole month of school” in just that one weekend.

This year, the MIT students have organized a program that will feature more than 650 classes taught by hundreds of college students and community members. Ranging from serious material in science and the humanities to more esoteric and wacky classes, the program provides a chance for students to get their feet wet in any number of different topics.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for everyone involved,” said Stephanie Bachar, a junior at MIT and chair of the Educational Studies Program. “Our students get the chance to explore topics of their choice that are often beyond the scope of a typical high school class. Our teachers can teach what they’re passionate about to students who are willing and excited to learn. Program directors and volunteers get to make a difference in a fun way, and really grow their creativity and leadership skills in real-world situations.”

“Working on Splash is a thrill,” agreed Paul Kominers, a sophomore and director of this year’s Splash. “When else am I going to get the chance to make something like this happen?”

Putting on Splash may be very rewarding, but it’s also a great deal of work, especially as the program gets larger. The students in charge stay up late reviewing classes, organizing teacher trainings, printing signs, and programming their student-run website (at Somewhere in there, they also fit in their academic work.

This work allows them to run Splash as a community service: with volunteer teachers and space provided by MIT, the cost is kept down to just $30 for a full weekend (up to 20 hours of classes). An optional lunch and dinner can also be purchased. Generous financial aid is available for those with need.

Since its beginnings, the Splash program has spread to four universities and is on its way to several others. Why is it so attractive to college student volunteers? “Volunteering for this program is different because it’s really your program,” said Chris Kennedy, a senior at MIT and co-director of Splash. “It’s such a unique opportunity to be able to work with your friends and make it happen, then see first-hand the impact it has on the students.” Even as it expands to other colleges, though, the program at MIT remains the largest, and draws students who live as far away as Hawaii, California, and even Singapore.

Middle and high school students who would like to attend the program or find out more can visit the MIT Educational Studies Program web site at Online registration for Splash is open now through Nov. 18, and on-site registration is available. Students who miss Splash will also have many more opportunities: at the web site, there is information about other programs run by the group, including more in-depth, semester-long versions of Splash classes, Advanced Placement courses, and SAT Preparation programs.

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