Over a clamor of hammering, chatter, whirring, and buzzing, a shout is heard—“What’s our number one rule?” “Have fun!” is the enthusiastic reply of a dozen or so 1st-grade voices. For the third summer running, The New Century School hosted Camp Invention, a week-long day program and the brainchild of the National Inventors Hall of Fame in partnership with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Presenting kids with real-world challenges that encourage them to solve problems and present their solutions through themed, scientific, engaging hands-on investigation, the Camp Invention program integrates four key components: 1) STEM enrichment, 2) consistent and effective implementation, 3) collaboration and other 21st-century skills, and 4) teacher and student development (read details here).
TNCS Kindergarten/1st-Grade teacher Teresa Jacoby headed up the program as Camp Director, joined by Camp Instructors Miss Danielle, Miss Fanta, Miss Katie, and Miss Sarah, who are public school teachers in various subjects during the school year. “I really enjoyed this program,” said Mrs. Jacoby, “because it’s very thorough, and everything is broken down into steps.” A science enthusiast in her own right, she plans to use some of the Camp Invention approach in her classroom. The thematic aspect, she says, shows students where a particular lesson is heading and what it all leads up to.
This year’s theme was Morphed!, which is divided into four modules that participants in one of three groups (orange = 4th–6th graders, green = 2nd and 3rd graders, and blue = 1st graders) cycle through each day:
1. Amplified: Kids explored the dynamic realm of the five senses on a bionic adventure. They joined “research teams” and unlocked clues to uncover nature’s blueprints (i.e., animal evolutionary adaptations), which hold the key to superhuman senses. To build essential STEM skills, they developed bionic gadgets and explored sensory illusions.
2. Super Go: Kids created morphing, motor-powered vehicles that operate on land, in the air, and underwater. Using nature’s designs, they explored energy, fuel, movement, and animal features and then applied these discoveries to motor-powered vehicles. In preparation for the Super Go Road Rally, they used their STEM skills to build their vehicles, ramps, and tunnels and let ’em rip!
3. I Can Invent: Pinbug: Kids disassembled electronics to build insect-themed pinball machines. They used tools to uncover mechanical guts and upcycle them into bumpers, targets, and scoreboards. Then they used physics, anatomy, and math to propel ping-pong balls onto the playfield with a cardboard launcher and insect leg flippers.
4. Design Studio: Morphed!: Kids invented and tinkered with circuits and design solutions to nature-based challenges. As entrepreneurs, team leaders, and designers, they worked alongside other campers to bring their inventions “to market” in an environment modeled after real-world research and development.
Thus, each module intersected with and built on the others, resulting in kids really making the connection between what they were doing and why. Said Mrs. Jacoby: “One of the things I got the biggest kick out of is that [Camp Instructor Miss Danielle, an AP Physics teacher] told me that a lot of her advanced high school students would have trouble putting the circuit boards used in Design Studio together, but these elementary-aged Camp Invention students are totally getting it. This is amazing!”
Mrs. Jacoby thoroughly enjoyed teaching the camp she says because she was impressed with how much the kids actually used tools to figure things out and to create, fix, and experiment. She also appreciated the number of girls participating; the ratio of girls to boys was equal. “There’s not a girl in here who’s going to be afraid to change her own light fixtures,” she said.