September 2, 2014

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Camp Innovation uses STEM to provide fun, educational classes for first- through sixth-graders

SHEFFIELD TWP. — It isn’t often you visit a school and find teachers dressed in NASA spacesuits.

Bailey Thacker, a first-grader, and Lily Beam, a second-grader at Vincent Elementary, blow up a balloon for the “Problem Solving on Planet Zak” module at Camp Invention at Durling Middle School in Sheffield Township on Thursday. (CT photo by Steve Manheim.)

Bailey Thacker, a first-grader, and Lily Beam, a second-grader at Vincent Elementary, blow up a balloon for the “Problem Solving on Planet Zak” module at Camp Invention at Durling Middle School in Sheffield Township on Thursday. (CT photo by Steve Manheim.)

But that is what Durling Middle School eighth-grade teacher Ryan Lewis was wearing Thursday as he helped students devise a contraption to cross a swamp on the imaginary planet of Zak. And while it sounds like a lot of a fun, it was educational, too.

Camp Invention is a nationwide organization seeking to reinforce young students’ understanding of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. The weeklong summer camp, hosted at the Clearview district middle school, invited first- through sixth-grade students to participate. The counselors, all local teachers, encourage the students to work as a team to develop innovative solutions to real-world challenges and sharpen critical learning skills.

The program’s schedule, which runs the same length as a full school day, rotates campers through five modules that use hands-on learning to teach about the sciences.

After problem-solving on Planet Zak, students apply Newton’s laws of physics to build a miniature amusement park for marbles and learn about gravity and speed by building catapults to launch rubber ducks, all constructed from donated, reusable material. Each activity builds on the previous lesson, creating consistency in the modules.

“Camp Invention offers thought-out, creative ways to bring learning to our kids,” said camp director and Durling Middle School fifth-grade teacher Molly Streator. “Through discovery, kids are learning how things work.”

With support from the school board and Durling principal Jerome Davis, and funding from the Community Foundation of Lorain County, Streator and Marci Southard, the camp’s assistant director and a seventh-grade teacher at Durling, began to plan and recruit interested students.

The camp enrolled 116 kids, 90 from the Clearview district, and all attend the camp every day. Because the grant allowed the two directors to reduce the entry fee, the camp had a waiting list.

“It is important it is cheap because some kids can’t afford the camp and will never have the experience,” said Durling Middle School sixth-grader Skyler Mehring, surrounded by her new friends.

Staff and campers alike describe the program as “a blast,” and their energy was apparent.

“The school atmosphere lights up,” Streator said. One sixth-grader described his experience as “interactive” and that he is “learning from doing fun things in the moment.”

A handful of teachers observed the constant engagement from the students and their ability to grasp new information.

“The kids understand these scientific laws,” said Patti Ritter, second-grade teacher at Vincent Elementary. “It shows they can learn if we teach them.”

Southard said that students at camp, particularly young girls, are engaged with and energized by the information, unlike during the school year, when they tend to observe more than participate.

“I see girls really stepping up to the plate and becoming empowered,” she said.

Mirtha Gonzales, parent of a sixth-grade camper and a camp counselor, said her daughter is enthralled.

“The camp is all fun for my daughter, no boring parts. And she’s learning a lot,” she said.

The program provides a fun summer experience and also prepares kids for their futures, she said.

“I think the program is important because STEM jobs are up and coming,” Streator said. “We need young, creative thinkers.”

Contact Elizabeth Kuhr at 329-7144 or ekuhr@chroniclet.com.

  • Beth

    STEM education is so important for our future as humans and for our country! Good job teachers and everyone involved. I hope this is still going in a few years when my kids are old enough to attend!

  • taxpayer89

    My son attended this year in Amherst and loved it.