By Katie Jansen
Last week, students gathered materials from a “recycle room” strewn with milk jugs, feathers, plastic bottles and other oddball materials to add to their creations at Elizabeth Lane Elementary’s Camp Invention.
Camp Invention, an annual four-day camp for rising first-to-sixth graders, is part of a national program focusing on science and exploration. The camp kicked off last week where the Matthews site welcomed 72 students.
Campers rotate through several stations every day, but perhaps the most popular is the tear apart station, where students are allowed to bring in broken appliances and tear them apart to create something new, director Andrea Hsu said.
“I’m trying to make a robot,” rising fourth-grader Nathan Williams said, explaining he was using “a channel changer for the TVs” for his parts.
Rising fourth-grader Kyan Feser also created a robot, mounting it on the base of a remote control car.
“It goes pretty fast. And I ‘safe-ified’ it,” he said, pointing to where he taped down a loose wire.
Students benefit from Camp Invention because it’s “science all day” as opposed to the rushed 30-minute block during a typical school year, Hsu said. The camp provides “a nurturing environment” where students can learn inquiry and critical thinking skills, she said. Campers use their imaginations by making things out of recyclable materials and also stay active by participating in outdoor games.
Students realize the importance of communication as they learn to work together, Hsu said.
“It’s really neat to see” the students encouraging each other when they run into problems, she said.
And problems were present last week.
“You might wanna glue it,” Nathan suggested when Kyan’s duct-taped robot fell off its remote control base.
Another group that powered through its problems was duo Madison Cail, a rising fifth-grader, and Lena Miano, a rising sixth-grader. Their first attempt at a slingshot to launch a rubber duck into a kiddie pool didn’t work.
Their improved design, a catapult with a yardstick and a coffee can, launched the duck on the first try.
Students also traveled to other stations throughout each day and were confronted with solving real-world problems across the globe, like overcrowding in Asia. And they were tasked with building other objects like miniature volcanoes.
Although problem-solving was an important skill during camp, imagination also was key. Rising fourth-grader Andrew Jenkins was excited to explain the different mechanisms of his robot to a reporter.
“If you press this button right here, it’ll turn into a jetpack, and with this one, you can call for backup,” he said. “But he’s not a bad guy, he’s a good guy.”
Camp has been running for years at Elizabeth Lane, but more schools in the area join in the Camp Invention club every year. Earlier this summer, Weddington Elementary also hosted a camp.
Because Elizabeth Lane has held Camp Invention for so many years, participants have the opportunity to move up through the ranks. Every station has a teacher while every rotating group has a leadership intern, usually a student in high school or college. Many former campers become counselors-in-training, hoping to become leadership interns.
Margaret Combs, a rising seventh- grader who attended camp at least two years before becoming a counselor-in-training, said she wanted to help other kids have the same fun she had as a camper.
Hsu enjoys this leadership system because students’ previous experience allows them to help younger students more efficiently. She also likes to see how students grow and become more independent.
“We try to keep it in the family,” she said.
Rising Providence High School sophomore Adam Hudson is a longtime member of this family. He attended camp since kindergarten, and this year was his debut as a leadership intern. He said his experience this year has helped him to refine leadership skills he also uses in Providence’s JROTC.
Campers ended the week on Thursday, June 27, by hosting a showcase where they presented their inventions to their parents. They then took their creations home along with the new skills they learned.
In addition to new skills, camp provided students with the ability to see the world differently. Alex Cail, a rising eighth-grader and a counselor-in-training, said she was inspired by her time at camp.
“Every time I came home, I wanted to invent something,” she said.