CHILLICOTHE — Feathers, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks and sequins littered the small table that was just the right height for the young campers who circled it.
Tiny, orange "orbots" fully equipped with googly eyes and colored pompoms zoomed down the long hallway past toes that peeked out of flipflops. Campers cheered each other on as they watched the bots, controlled by miniature remotes, disappear under the cardboard tunnels they created as a flash of orange quickly popped out of the other end.
Camp Invention at South Elementary School in Chillicothe has kicked off its third summer camp under the direction of Laura Holmes.
Camp Invention is a program by the National Inventors Hall of Fame, a not-for-profit organization dating to 1990. In partnership with the United States Patent and Trademark Office with sponsorship from South Elementary School, this STEM-based educational camp allows local students to learn through fun with eight days of challenges.
Kari Brodbeck sat in the corner of the superhero-themed classroom putting together a gadget to help her release the stolen ideas from the evil Plagiarizer’s lair. This is Brodbeck’s first summer with Camp Invention before she starts fourth grade in the fall.
“I’m an alien hamster,” Brodbeck said proudly, squinting through the blue tape stuck to her glasses that held her pipe cleaner antennae in place.
She gave a twirl to show off her feather-lined, rhinestone, pink cape that had the image of a hamster in the middle that she also made out of pipe cleaners.
“I think it’s just that persistence of sticking with something until they can bring it to some sort of conclusion,” said Holmes. “We talk a lot about how if something doesn’t work the first time, it means you’ve discovered something. Even if it doesn’t work, now you can figure out how to improve it.”
One of the main focuses of the camp is to encourage teamwork through sharing ideas with one another. It also provides a space for the campers to express themselves.
“So if they want to put Pringles cans on their hands,” Holmes said as she pointed out one of the campers, “they can put Pringles cans on their hands.”
Each day at Camp Invention, the campers are given a new challenge — one that encourages creativity through problem solving.
“We’re pretending today,” said Lindsey Hanson, a first-grade teacher at Mossville Elementary School, as she began to instruct her group on their challenge for the day. On this day, it was using a pile of miscellaneous recyclables to build and create inventions to pick up "toxic sludge" scattered about the wood gym floor.
The camp is run based on learning stations. Most other camps operate for five days a week during times of a usual school day, but because of summer school at their location, the camp runs for eight days from 8 a.m. to about 11:30 a.m. The campers are divided into groups based on age and rotate to complete three different stations by the end of each session.
Their objective for Hanson’s station was to work with a partner to create a tool that would allow them to retrieve the “toxic” waste without touching it. The tools, or prototypes as the camp instructors referred to them, were just that — prototypes.
At Camp Invention, the instructors encourage the campers to focus on the process rather than if the tool worked efficiently or not. Despite the wide age gap between the kindergarten through sixth grade campers, steering away from “baby talk” is an important part in teaching STEM concepts while still having fun through using their imagination.
“In classroom learning, sometimes it’s a little harder because you don’t always have time to be fully dedicated to all the STEM activities and have them really demonstrate those problem-solving skills and cooperation skills,” said Hanson.
“This camp gives them all the time. They’re doing it all day, whether it’s building something themselves or just playing a game together. ... It really lets them have this opportunity that they wouldn’t get in a classroom.”
This particular camp accommodates 44 campers and takes pride in its 1 to 5 ratio of instructors to campers. For students going into seventh through ninth grade who are still interested in the camp, Camp Invention offers a “Leader in Training” program that allows the older campers to assist in the operations.
The camp is also offered at other area schools, including St. Mary’s School of Kickapoo, which ran earlier this month, and at Peoria Christian School starting July 22.
Grace Barbic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (309) 686-3194. Follow her on Twitter @gracebarbic.