Camp sparks students’ inventive imaginations: Camp Invention focuses on developing STEM skills

gazette photo by Avery Cropp
Landan Smith, left, and Samuel Ciegler build a small part of the city of Magnetropolis on Aug. 8 at Camp Invention at Lake Elmo Elementary School.

LAKE ELMO — For the past week children in grades one through six have made Lake Elmo Elementary school their base camp for a special summer camp called Camp Invention which focuses on developing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills.

The weeklong camp taught 85 students this year to stretch their imaginations and participate in four classes throughout the day. The classes include I can Invent: Balloon Burst, Magnetropolis, Inventureka, and Action and Adventure Games.

Susan Clarke is the regional consultant for Minnesota and has participated in the camps for 12 years.

“It’s fun. I always say that it’s teaching the way you thought you’d be teaching without the paperwork and testing,” she said. “It’s great to see kids getting excited, see their ‘a-ha’ moments and learning lessons in a fun, creative and positive way.”

If the energy that greeted a reporter visiting the camp Wednesday is an indication, the camp seems to live up to Clarke’s promise. Kids were excited about learning and eager to share what they’ve learned with anyone who asked them questions.

The first stop in the I can Invent: Balloon Burst class, or module as it’s called at Camp Invention, was full of noise and kids taking apart donated electronics to build something new. This module’s goal is to build a small “Rube Goldberg-type” machine which uses many steps to do a simple action, in this case to pop a balloon.

“I like (this class) because you get to build things and take things apart,” camper Ethan Tischer said. “Building things is fun.”

In another classroom, students work with magnets to build a scale model of a city. The kids are told is that the city has been left barren and needs to be rebuilt by the campers. The kids are put into small groups and assigned to build different parts of the city, whether that’s a street full of shops, houses or even a port with a real working lighthouse.

Taillen Miller, a counselor-in-training at Camp Invention, loves the experience she has with the kids.

“I like the camp a lot, and I love talking with the kids and helping them learn more about science,” she said.

The camp’s goal is teaching students teamwork and collaboration to give them a feel of what they’d face in the real world and for one classroom in particular they are learning this lesson, albeit a little reluctantly.

“(All the kids) made one invention over the first two days at camp,” said teacher Brandon Auge. “They were really taking ownership of it, which was great, but then we implemented the teamwork part which was difficult at first. I had to preface the lesson with a short pep-talk about teamwork to prepare them for it.”

The kids went on to put their inventions together to create new ones. Tom Blair and Matt Fjestad thought that putting their cardboard prototype of a boat and ray gun together would be a really cool thing to do, plus they say it floats.

Overall, the students said they liked the camp and some discovered something new: they really liked inventing.

“It’s very fun inventing and it isn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” said camper Avery DeWitt. “It’s turned out to be excellent and when I came home from camp on the first day I was so excited.”

Clarke said when she gets back evaluations at the end of the camp, she discovers kids think they’re inventors.

“The camp is important because it tackles STEM teaching in a fun way to inspire future scientists, inventors, and engineers,” Clarke said. “While kids are having all this fun they are mimicking the scientific process and preparing for future success and they don’t even know it.”