Piles of empty cereal boxes, toilet paper tubes, styrofoam and other items that look like they might have come from someone’s recycling bin lined one wall of the St. Francis Xavier school gym in Sartell last week.
This “mess” of stuff was actually part of a weeklong event called “Camp Invention,” a science-based program that helps students not only build STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills but also teaches them to think outside the box.
“When I think about the values this program is teaching our students, one of the most important is to be thoughtful and respectful for our environment,” said SFX Principal Kathy Kockler. “It is teaching children to think differently about something that they may have; it may not serve the same purpose or use, but it teaches them that maybe they can use it for something else. Isn’t that what we want to teach our children?”
The core of Camp Invention, created by the National Inventors Hall of Fame, is to “turn curious students into innovative thinkers.” From erecting bridges to building robots to testing boats that float, second-grade teachers Bonnie Van Heel and Denise Ludick saw that curiosity blossom all week long.
“It’s been really fun to watch them learning together,” Ludick said. “We are hoping they will remember the things they did here — building teamwork, engaging them and their excitement about learning — and take it with them into the classroom.”
Each day, 33 kids going into grades 1-5 traveled through four courses of study: Farm Tech, Innovation Force, Deep Sea Mystery and DIY Orbots. Each area of focus centered on different facets of learning. SFX has had a STEM program for about four years, and Kockler said she and the teachers were pleased to be able to offer this camp as a way to broaden their current curriculum.
“It aligns very well with the work we do during the year so it is a great extension and synergy with our existing learning,” she said.
Steph Pederson, a pre-kindergarten teacher at SFX, served as the basecamp coordinator for Camp Invention. She said one of the best parts of the camp was the way the students embraced teamwork.
“It really has been a lot about finding their own gifts and talents,” she said, “and recognizing the gifts that others have, then trying to work together as a team.”
The camp also involved other skill-building opportunities.
“The kids kept inventor’s logs, so they kept notes,” Pederson said. “It helped build their vocabulary as well as included math, literacy, writing, science, handling money and problem-solving.”
Nicole Vos, another pre-kindergarten teacher at SFX, saw the camp not only through the lens of a teacher but as a parent through her own children, Delaney, 7, and Landon, 9, who attended the camp.
“It really is our vision for learning,” Vos said. “My kids were coming home and explaining all the things they did. One day, they made superhero outfits — ‘real people’ superheroes. They learned about real people who are making inventions and who are making a difference in the world.”
“They are also solving real-world problems,” Kockler added. “What they are seeing is that, when there’s a problem in the world, somebody comes along with an idea to fix it, and that somebody could be you.”
Kockler said they are already planning to bring Camp Invention back next summer and will continue to build on the experiences this past week during the school year.
“We found this program very engaging for our students,” Kockler said. “It is getting them to think in different ways, to work together collaboratively in teams, and to see each other in a different light than they might in the classroom. It really is what our school and our vision is all about.”