Students overcome challenges to learn at Camp Invention

Mike and Bev Simpson look at the mini mansions that students at the Chatfield Elementary Camp Invention made as their camp projects. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS

Parents and siblings check out the projects that Camp Invention students made. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
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Summertime: The days kids rotate their modules.

“There are four different modules this summer that the kids rotate through daily. In Optibot, kids code a robot that senses light and dark. The kids draw black lines on the paper to help their Optibot through different obstacle courses. They each get to take home their Optibots at the end of camp,” related Chatfield kindergarten instructor Kaitlin Tuohy. “In Robotic Pet Vet, the kids have been acting as vets all week, taking care of sick robotic puppies. They have done surgery, tested urine samples and killed viruses in their robotic dogs. They have each created a robotic dog that they will take home at the end of camp.”

Tuohy, one of the Chatfield Elementary School (CES) instructors leading the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) Camp Invention summer camp at CES, went on, “In Stick to It, the kids have made magnetic slime, spinning dinosaurs, light sabers and their very own inventions. In Mod-My-Mini-Mansion, the kids have created their very own smart houses with working lights, solar panels and smart appliances.”

Camp Invention is a nonprofit organization that is part of the National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees and works in partnership with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. This program has been established since 1990 and has grown to include all 50 states.

Tuohy explained that the program incorporates STEM education that supplements traditional school year instruction. Kids entering grades kindergarten through sixth can attend Camp Invention, kids in grades seven and eight can be a counselor in training, and students in ninth through 12th grades are leadership interns at Camp Invention.

“I am the director of Camp Invention for the second year in a row,” she said. “This year’s instructors are Kate Johnson, Tiffany Wilkie, Cheri Vondal and Angela Fitzpatrick. All four are teachers at Chatfield Elementary School.”

Summer 2017 was CES’s Camp Invention pilot year, and it proved to be as successful as Tuohy had imagined.

“Last year, we had 61 kids signed up for Camp Invention. The kids had a blast, and a lot of them are back at camp again this year,” she said. “We have 83 kids attending Camp Invention this year, which is 22 more than last year. We have kids from many area schools, including Dover-Eyota, Pinewood Elementary, Fillmore Central, Chatfield, Plainview-Elgin-Millville, St. Charles and Stewartville.”

Scholarships have made a difference for some of the participants, as Tuohy acknowledged the camp is not an inexpensive one.

“Camp Invention provides all the curriculum and materials that we need for camp, but Camp Invention is a costly program for kids to attend, so we are always looking for people or businesses to provide donations for scholarships for families,” she said. “This year, we were able to send six kids to camp on scholarships from the Chatfield Fire Department and our donor webpage that anyone could donate money to.”

The expense is worth it, according to the teacher. “Camp Invention helps them with problem-solving skills and being part of a team. It also helps give them a mentality that one day, they could create something that could help a lot of people,” she said.

Tuohy also noted that the kids have so much fun all week that they do not even realize they are learning. However, she added, “When you hear them talking about sensors, circuits and gears, you know they have learned a lot.”

She has observed that one of the biggest challenges for the kids is the teamwork. “It can be hard for kids to work as a team when they all have different ideas,” Tuohy said. “Although it is hard, it is a great thing for them to learn how to do. At Camp Invention, there is no right or wrong answer. Many of the projects the kids do focus on the process, and the children learn through trial and error. A lot of kids in Stick to It have made some pretty cool clothes that they can actually wear. They have been creative with string and glue to make it fit. Another child has built what looks like a real hang glider, and a lot of kids have built robot suits.”

She added that other students have encountered different challenges. “They have taken apart robotic dogs and put them back together again. They have added fur, collars, leashes and much more to their dogs. They have made mini mansions with high-tech smart gadgets, a dog park and an underwater sea adventure for their Optibots. They have sensed a forest fire with their Optibots and stopped it with their own version of a BAMBI bucket. Every day at camp, they have two or three challenges in each module that they work through.”

Observing how the students navigate the academic obstacles set before them interests Tuohy. “The best part about teaching Camp Invention is seeing how much fun the kids have and all the great ideas that they come up with,” she said. “They are all so creative…it is just as exciting for me as it is for the kids, as I love to see all the fun they have and the cool ideas they come up with. Parents have said that their children come home talking nonstop about Camp Invention and all the things they have been creating. They are excited to hear about all the fun their kids have each day.”

Tuohy has hopes for Camp Invention to become an annual event at Chatfield Elementary. “I would love to see Camp Invention continue at Chatfield Elementary as a regular event for years to come. The kids have already been talking about coming back to Camp Invention next summer,” she concluded.