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Camp turns brainy young inventors loose on ideas

by: Jaime Valdez, Kelsey Guinn, 8, said she likes taking apart and designing things.

'Shield yourself from the ZAKian storm,' yelled Camp Invention teacher Sally Stone Tuesday as she simulated lightning by flashing classroom lights on and off.

As students scampered into their respective 'shelters,' a student volunteer shot mist from a water bottle into any noticeable cracks in the structures.

The goal was to ensure that the shelters - constructed of construction paper and a variety of recyclable materials - would endure a nasty storm on the imaginary planet.

Students assembled at Terra Linda Elementary School last week were participating in Camp Invention, a nationwide summer program for first- through sixth-graders begun 15 years ago by the National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation.

Outside the door of Planet ZAK, a huge pile of recyclable debris awaited the next group of inventors to create the perfect space shelter.

'These are things found at the (spaceship) 'crash site,' ' Stone explained of the recycle pile. 'The concept of this camp is creative problem solving.'

Jan Peterson-Terjeson, another Camp Invention teacher, said the mantra of the program is simple: 'I can invent.'

As a result, students focus on four modules during the week: Problem Solving on Planet ZAK, Imagination Point: Ride Physics, Spills and Chills and I Can Invent.

Peterson-Terjeson said the students on June 26 tried their luck out on Spills and Chills, a module that demonstrates how effective seatbelts are. That was accomplished by filling 2-liter soda bottles with water, and trying to restrain them with some type of safety harness while sending them off over bumpy surfaces.

'They had to make sure their 'person' (bottle) could stay on,' Peterson-Terjeson said.

But students don't just charge ahead with the projects without thinking.

'They actually have to do all the brainstorming process before they do the building,' Peterson-Terjeson said.

Peterson-Terjeson said the program tries to instill the importance to students of the acronym IDEAL: Identify the problem, Define the problem, Explore choices, Act (build) and Learn from results.

'This is so different from their regular classroom instruction,' said Peterson-Terjeson.

Her own advice to encourage young would-be inventors? 'The best thing a parent can give their kids is two rolls of tape and a pile a recyclables and imagination,' Peterson-Terjeson said.

Building stuff

Jacqueline Freeman, coordinator of the Camp Invention for Oregon and Southwest Washington, said the camp concept began more than 15 years ago after The Inventors Hall of Fame in Ohio asked inventors what drove them to create.

While the answers varied, a common theme was present - somewhere between the ages of 7 and 12, the inventors said they embraced inquiry-based thinking.

Across the hall from Planet ZAK, Kelsey Guinn, 9, busied herself by eviscerating a slushy machine and lantern in a quest for spare parts.

'I'm just going to build a robot to 'zap' people who don't knock on my door,' said Guinn, an incoming Terra Linda fourth-grader. 'It really doesn't have to work. You just have to model it - make it look like it will work.'

Guinn was enjoying the program so much that she opted for a second week, having spent the prior week at Camp Invention held at Nancy Ryles Elementary School.

'I like taking apart and designing things,' Guinn said.

Nearby, future fifth-graders Brian Eisner and Sanjay Kambhatla, diligently worked on disassembling a VCR.

'We're going to build stuff with all the pieces,' said Kambhatla, noting that a circuit board found in the machine most likely would soon be used as a solar panel.

Terjeson-Peterson's son, Cason, is spending his second year as a counselor with the program.

Kayla Bell, camp director, said the Invention Camp concept is a throwback to the time when kids would make inventions - such as the planet shelters - in their own living rooms.

She said the curriculum and many materials (except for the pile of recyclable items) are available through Camp Invention.