by Dennis Dalman
Any visitor walking down the hallway of St. Francis Xavier Elementary School the week of June 17-21 might have thought the classrooms were filled with frantic elves bustling to get toys done in time for Santa.
It was the joyous roar of the commotion of creation. There were the sounds of tap-tap-tapping, duct tape being unspooled, bang-bang-boom, the rustling of paper and plastic and the squeals and giggles of energetic children all working together in teams.
They weren’t elves, however. They were 33 students taking part in a week-long summer program dubbed “Camp Invention.”
At one table, students took turns squeezing a plastic bag filled with water and with holes in the bottom of the bag. The water would squirt out the holes into an aluminum foil pan. The activity was supposed to let students know what it’s like to milk a cow. Suddenly, one girl squeezed too hard and the water burst out in a big splash.
“You broke the udder!” a nearby boy loudly scolded her. “You killed the cow!”
Peals of laugher resounded as a few other students mock-scolded the squeezer.
It was a good example of students having fun while learning, while creating, while solving problems through tight teamwork. And that’s what Camp Invention is about – innovative solutions, creative thinking, solving problems, not to mention having lots of fun at the same time.
During the June 19 Camp Invention sessions, three school employees explained how the program works. The three were Principal Kathy Kockler; Steph Pederson, pre-school teacher and program coordinator; and Nicole Vos, a pre-K teacher. Vos’s daughter Delany, 10, is a participant in Camp Invention as well as three of Delany’s cousins, who are visiting from Gilbert, Ariz.
It was Pederson who attended a conference last year where she heard about Camp Invention. Back home, she told the school staff about it, and her enthusiasm was contagious because everyone became convinced the students would love it.
“We decided to start Camp Invention this spring,” said Kockler. “It took a lot of logistics and putting all the pieces together.”
Hard work or not, all are happy about the program. The 33 students, who will be next year in grades one through five, meet every day for a week from 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. The teachers are Vos and second-grade teachers Bonnie Van Heel and Denise Ludick. Adult assistants are also on hand to help out.
Camp Invention was created by members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. It is under the rubric of the STEM program (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), which promotes in the classroom an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to learning. STEM programs began at St. Francis Xavier School four years ago, Kockler noted. There were 289 students at the school this past school year.
Kockler said Camp Invention dovetails perfectly with what students learn in their STEM sessions. All of the activities involve hands-on activities, creative challenges, forms of technology and problem-solving skills for real-world problems.
Camp Invention began in 1990 and is now a program at 1,600 schools nationwide. Independent appraisers of the program have said it definitely hones problem-solving skills, increases attendance, improves test scores and increases GPA averages.
There are four parts during the week-long Camp Invention program. Students take turns working in each program.
Here are descriptions of each part:
In “Innovation Force,” children team up with the Innovation Force, a group of National Inventors’ Hall of Fame inductees who have been transformed into superheroes, and together they battle “the evil plagiarizer,” a villain determined to steal the world’s ideas. As children create a device to retrieve stolen ideas, they learn about the importance of collaboration and patents.
In “Deep Sea Mystery,” students embark on an adventure at sea but get stranded on an island after their boat sinks. Children then work in teams to invent island-survival tools and underwater equipment so they can navigate their way home in a new-built boat. The students at St. Francis Xavier had a blast building ingenious small boats from a variety of cast-off items. One boat’s hull was created out of an egg carton with pontoon-like appendages duck-taped to its sides. On its top was attached a v-shaped paper cup resembling a sail.
In “Farm Team,” children learn to manage their own farms and the basics of business. With the help of Bot-ANN-E, a programmable robot, they learn coding techniques to maximize their time and profits and perform mock DNA experiments to check the health of their cattle. In the Sartell school, this is the unit where children “milked” an udder and made special slingshots so they could fling the hay bales to hungry Holsteins taped up on a wall.
“DIY Orbot” is a unit in which children explore frequency, circuit boards, motors and gears, using real tools to reverse-engineer a remote-controlled DIY Orbot. They then program the “orbots” to perform challenging tasks from sports to art.
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.