TNCS Summer Theatre Camp 2016: A Week of Wonder

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Wonder, a book about what happens when people treat each other with kindness.

Theatre Camp at The New Century School is always a smash hit, thanks to the wonderful Alex Hewett, instructor, counselor, actor, and all-around arteest. For several years running, Ms. Hewett has shared her enormous talents with TNCS and students from all around Baltimore City during the summer. (To read more about Ms. Hewett’s contributions and background, read Summertime Theatrics: Drama Camp at TNCS and TNCS Drama Camp Brings Out Kids’ Inner Artists.)

This year’s concept sprang from R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, a book about a 10-year-old boy named Auggie who suffers an unnamed facial deformity. Auggie’s painful story unfolds to reveal the wonder of human relationships when kindness is the lodestar guiding them. Because Auggie’s appearance invites stares and unpleasant reactions from strangers, his parents homeschool until 5th grade, when they decide it’s time for Auggie to face (literally) the world and his place in it.

“The story resonated with her students,” says Ms. Hewett, “because although none of them have a deformity like Auggie’s, they all know what it’s like to confront and overcome obstacles.” Even during camp, situations arose that required students to think about how their words and actions were affecting others and choose a better, kinder way. Ms. Hewett’s camp has three precepts: One, be kind. Two, be kind. Three, be kind.

Besides the theme of this year’s camp, other aspects are different from past theatre camps as well. This time, much of the dramatizing is spontaneous, improvised from listening to Ms. Hewett read passages of the book aloud. “I like that because it means the students are helping with how we are structuring everything,” she explained. This approach allows for a little more “chaos” than a scripted approach would, but it also demands that students truly internalize the message to reproduce it. With a script, explained Ms. Hewett, students are learning to memorize their lines without necessarily grappling with the ideas contained within those lines. “Creativity shouldn’t be organized.”

To further deepen their understanding, they also integrated visual art as well as song and dance (“Wonder” by Natalie Merchant). The results were pretty amazing. Students really “got it,” so it’s no stretch to imagine that they will apply the lessons they have learned in their future daily interactions.

In addition to acting, students also practiced the practical side of stagecraft. They were asked to “strike” and re-set the stage, as they performed scenes from Wonder in multiple settings—such as a school lunchroom and a forest. One of the most ingenious facets of Ms. Hewett’s theatre camp is how she uses what she has, something every good actor understands—they must be able to roll with it to keep a scene afloat. The show must go on. Another important point is that every role is critical to the show’s success. “Even if you’re in charge of turning on the lights or building sets or you’re the Lead Technical Artist, your contribution is essential to the performance” said Ms. Hewett.

Thus, Ms. Hewett, with only 5 days to create, learn, rehearse, and outfit a play, used the TNCS Imagination Playground for props. Note how a cafeteria table becomes a tree in the forest.

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The 2016 TNCS Theatre Troupe

Ms. Hewett says the students “blew [her] away.” To be a part of this collaboration, they had to be comfortable with some initial disarray. “Being creative can be frustrating,” she said, “and you have disasters and things break. But then things come together, and I think that’s how you learn.”

As always, theatre camp at TNCS is a wonder-ful thing.

TNCS Camp Invention 2016 Is Epic!

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“This tessellation of hexagons represents he collective wisdom, experience, and insights of some of our nation’s greatest innovators, the Inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Each individual hexagon builds and strengthens the whole piece, just like each person’s invention contributes to the greater power of American ingenuity.

For four summers running, The New Century School has 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).

Camp Invention adopts a new curriculum each summer to ensure that participants have a dynamic and memorable camp experience. This year, the theme was “Epic!,” and there’s no doubt that it was aptly named. Joining the TNCS campus for the first time were seasoned Camp Director Beth Allen and Co-Director Lynnette Haynes, who are teachers at Westchester Elementary School teachers in Catonsville as well as their Camp Counselor Morgan.

Ms. Allen has been running Camp Invention for 15 years and says she loves the program, “It’s great for kids,” she explained, “because it’s very hands on and nothing is ‘cut and paste’—all work comes from the kids’ imaginations and what is important to them. They are the creators.”

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The Epic! participants.

All in all, there were 52 “creators” entering 1st through 5th grade to participate in Epic! As in years past, Epic! was divided into four modules that campers cycle through each day:

1. CrickoBotTM : Solar-powered robotic crickets are the name of the game! Campers created cricket-inspired inventions to outsmart motorized spider predators, build cricket-sized tire swings and trampolines, and explore the science of sound by investigating how crickets chirp. Friends challenged one another to Chirp-Offs, where they played their musical instrument inventions.

In CrickoBot,™ here’s how children merged STEM concepts with real-world challenges:

  • Powered a circuit using solar energy
  • Explored biology and the unique characteristics of crickets
  • Engineered inventions inspired by a cricket’s unique abilities to shed their exoskeleton, create sound, and jump great distances
  • Designed cricket and spider bots that move using a vibrating motor and counter balance
  • Used physics and motion concepts to produce cricket-sized inventions

2. Epic ParkTM: Campers geared up and designed zip lines, water flumes, and hi-tech eco-gear! Ed Venture and Angel Investor needed their help to develop the latest and greatest tourist attraction because the dynamic duo just purchased Epic Park, located on a beautiful island filled with rainforest areas, waterfalls, sandy desert stretches, steep cliffs, and rolling hills that all lead down to the ocean. Angel and Ed—who happen to be crazy about all things adventurous—were looking for innovative thinkers to team up and pitch their most cutting-edge, green-energy designs for the future of Epic Park.

In Epic Park,™ here’s how children merged STEM concepts with real-world challenges:

  • Designed tree houses that integrate simple machines
  • Discovered Epic Park’s ecological diversity and unique terrain
  • Built prototypes and models of innovative eco-adventures
  • Pitched their Epic Park models for the chance to be co-owners by creating a commercial

3. I Can Invent: Maker StudioTM: Campers repowered the motors, gears, lights, fans, and components found in broken machines to make their own innovations in the Maker Studio! For inspiration, they spun the Inventor Challenge Wheel to hear a video challenge from National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees and Collegiate Inventors Competition Finalists and Winners. Everyone spent time exploring the science of 3D printing and tinkering with circuits to get their wheels turning in a new direction as they prepareed to make The Next Big Thing!

In I Can Invent: Maker Studio,™ here’s how children merged STEM concepts with real-world challenges:

  • Exercised authentic STEM exploration as they applied reverse engineering to disassemble broken appliances and redesign them into prototypes
  • Expressed ideas through writing and sketching in their Inventors Log
  • Used creativity, innovation, design engineering, and design thinking to engage in problem-based learning
  • Increased their understanding of the value of Intellectual Property and the roles that patents, trademarks, and copyrights play in the landscape of innovation

4. The Lab: Where Pigs FlyTM: Campers explored demolitions, coding, squid, slime, and sound-activated lights in The Lab: Where Pigs Fly and anything is possible! As scientists, programmers, and biologists, campers tested out a dozen or so experiments in the Camp Invention Laboratories. Each day brought exciting new challenges, from demolition and cup tower explosions, to programming and coding, to the chemistry of polymer slime and spinning disco ball circuits.

In The Lab: Where Pigs Fly,™ here’s how children merged STEM concepts with real-world challenges:

  • Used a wrecking ball and mock dynamite to demolish structures
  • Coded a programmable robot
  • Designed a device to collect marine specimens
  • Explored geometry and angles as they bounce light
  • Conducted chemistry experiments to make their own slime

Thus, each module intersected with and built on the others, resulting in kids really making the connection between what they were doing and why. As for inventions, they made robots (there were a lot of robots!), a “homework helper” (a motorized pen to get that homework done faster!) and much (much—see photos for the state of the TNCS gymnasium during Camp Invention week!) more.

Ms. Allen was excited that 2016 was the first year campers could integrate lights and motion in their creations. “Their prototypes didn’t always work out the way they expected, but the kids were so engaged in what they were doing and happy to see where their imaginations would take them,” she said.

They also spent plenty of time outdoors, and even applied their physics and motion concepts on the playground in some Epic Water Battles!

For past Camp Invention posts, see Camp Invention Returns to TNCS in June and Camp Invention Takes Creativity to New Heights (and New Depths) at TNCS!. Also keep the fun going with questions designed to keep your camper connected to Camp Invention ideas and motifs:

1. What was the most exciting activity at camp?

2. What do you hope to do at next year’s Camp Invention program?

3. How can you create Camp Invention at home?