By Lindsay Carey
With robots made of recycled goods and pinball machines built from the parts of a VCR, the local school system is fostering a generation of inventers through Camp Invention.
The science camp is a national educational summer program designed to enrich students in ways that they normally don’t get to during the normal school year.
Camp Invention was held at Strong School during the week of Aug. 4 for children grades 1 through 6. Southington’s Camp Invention was one of the seven camps in the tri-state area to fill the camp to its capacity of 110 students.
“Camp Invention is all about hands on building, creating, designing, learning through a process that requires the kids to think openly about projects and tasks,” said Camp Invention Site Director Dave Destefano. “They’re looking at the design of cars, looking at the design of machines, recorders, DVD players.”
The students rotate between five courses throughout the day, which are all inquiry based. The five modules are based to help students build their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills.
“STEM is integrated into the curriculum now,” said Destefano, science teacher at Southington High School. “So that’s something that’s a good stepping stone for the year coming up, where they’ll be expected to expand on the open ended and the inquiry based activities.”
With five instructors for each of the modules, the campers are stationed in different areas and the kids just move about with the use of Leadership Interns and counselors in training (CITs).
The CITs are middle school students that work hands on with the younger kids. The Leadership Interns, high school students, mentor the CITs and they also coordinate what they’re going to do in the classrooms with the instructors.
The five modules that the inventors go to are “I Can Invent: Pinbug,” “Energize,”“Super Go,” “Morphed” and “Amplified.”
During the first two days of module “I Can Invent: Pinbug” the children spend time taking apart electronic devices to build a pinball machine that looks like the parts of an insect, whether it’s leg parts, antenna, and body.
In the last three days of the module, the children begin to create their pinball machine based out of the parts from a DVD player, CD player or VCR.
“It’s important to know what’s inside, not just the outside,” said Leadership Intern Rong Chen. “When they’re taking things apart, they learn the inside and can find something important to build from the parts.”
In module “Energize” the children participated in physical activities that require open ended thought. The campers might be asked to work as a team to create the illusion of a spider and move around as a group so that they look like a spider. They also work through obstacle courses.
“There are a lot of games that involve in team building,” said Chen, an incoming senior at Southington High School. “They have to learn to be involved as team members. Many of them came in shy and by making them captains; it helps them make friends too.”
Module “Super Go” is all about the design of cars. The campers are equipped with wheels, rubber bands and little fans to power their cars.
“There’s a lot of creativity with that because they add a lot of parts to the car to see what it slows it down or speeds it up,” said Destefano.
“Morphed” is the module where the children utilize recycled items like cartons, containers, cans, boxes and even old unused toys, yarn, string to create many different things. This module is all about using creativity and imagination. Students can build anything from a robot to a bird feeder.
“There’s a set curriculum, but it’s all about what do you want to do,” said Leadership Intern Ally Schroeder. “What do you imagine what can you do? It’s something they have to figure out for themselves. It’s not something I can tell them. The first day they were blocked, like ‘I don’t know what to do?’ By the next day, they’re like ‘please don’t help me.’”
The fifth module is “Amplified”, which concerns the senses. The campers explore hearing, smelling, taste, touch, and sight through sensory items like sponges, rubber bands, balls, and lights.
Camp Invention is a program that fosters a love of math and science in young students by letting them pursue their ideas.
“Here, they’re doing math and they don’t even know it,” said Rita Stearns, assistant director of Camp Invention. “They’re doing science and there’s no quiz, there’s no test, there’s no notes to read. They learn by doing.”
Stearns also said the interactive learning style of the summer camp makes the children more confident.
“Kids that maybe wouldn’t take a chance in the classroom are speaking out here and they’re raising their hand,” said Stearns. “They’re asking questions and there is no wrong answer. For some of these kids there’s nothing better than that.”
Camp Invention has been receiving positive feedback since the beginning of the year, when the school website was redesigned to promote the success of the program. ]
According to Destefano, there was also an email blast to all parents that have children in Elementary school, which included the link to the website, as well as a phone blast.
“We had registrations filled pretty quickly,” said Destefano. “We were anticipating 40 kids and we got maximum capacity 110. We were pretty thrilled to have so many kids in the program being that this is the first year we’ve done it.”
As soon as the camp started, Destefano said he started receiving positive feedback from the instructors, leadership interns and parents.
Some parents raved about how their kids have loved it and wished to enroll the rest of their kids into the program, however it was at maximum capacity.
“We may have to do a double session next year,” said the site coordinator. “Or we might do one week and then a second week then we can get 220 students in.”
Destefano also said that there were plenty of middle school students interested in being CITs. Once registration opened, Camp Invention immediately received 20 requests. The first 10 were accepted, and 16 more middle school students were on a wait list for the leadership opportunity.
“It was a surprise to have this many kids,” said Destefano. “It’s an indication that Southington has the desire to have their kids enter into science based designing, creating and learning and open ended activities.”