Camp Invention teaches STEM at young age
By Scott Bellile
Just one week after clearing out for summer break, Parkview Elementary’s campus sprung back to life.
Only this time 60 children were tearing apart electronics, throwing water balloons and occasionally screaming in the hallways … all in the name of science.
Camp Invention returned to Parkview Elementary June 22 through 26 for its fourth year of cultivating future scientists. The nationwide summer enrichment program aims to foster kids’ curiosity toward science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as they enter grades one through six.
Readfield Elementary and Sugar Bush Elementary Principal Kristin Grable said she introduced the program to New London in 2012 to familiarize kids with STEM concepts they often do not encounter until middle school.
Whereas a traditional classroom demands order, Camp Invention classes encourage children to be chatty, hands-on and sometimes hyper.
“We just kind of take over Parkview for a week,” Grable said.
Grable taught Camp Invention classes in Oshkosh for a decade. When she called to enroll her boys in Oshkosh one year, the woman on the phone convinced her to start a program closer to home.
The National Inventors Hall prepared Parkview with 32 boxes – or half a UPS truck–full of curriculum materials prepared by engineers and scientists. The curriculum ranges from studying bioluminescent (light-up) fish to building rideable cardboard box carts taped to skateboards that students maneuver through a water balloon fight.
Bulldogs softball coach Tony Porath taught the kids reverse engineering, which is taking apart objects to learn how they work inside. Camp Invention sent Parkview computer towers, alarm clocks, VCRs and other electronics.
“They love taking all that computer stuff apart,” Porath said. “They could do it for five days.”
Parkview hosts the camp because of its centralized location within the district, Grable said. Attendees were mostly New London students, but three siblings from Colombia attended while their parent, a New London graduate, visited Wisconsin for the week.
The camp carries a $220 price to attend, but enough area sponsors chip in that parents rarely pay the full price, Grable said.
“My goal is to get every kid that wants to come to camp to camp,” Grable said.
Olivia Treas, age 11, said she enjoys constructing projects at home but cannot always find what she needs. Camp Invention gives young builders like her a supply closet full of materials to be creative.
Anna Treas, 10, worked on constructing a newspaper tower with Olivia. Anna said the massive amount of supplies provided to the camp opened up fun and social opportunities.
“You meet more people and you just get to play with everybody, too. It’s really fun,” she said.
While STEM programs nationwide struggle to draw females, Grable said Parkview’s camp had an even mix of girls and boys.
“I think New London does a really good job of promoting girls in science,” Grable said.
Grable wanted a New London STEM program to inspire young learners early because she said it’s tough to say where kids will end up if they’re not connected early in life.
“What better time than the summer to get kids fired up about science?” Grable said.