Camp Invention Challenges Youth to Innovate and Create

By Tanya Reinhardt

Camp Invention is a hands-on academic enrichment program designed to inspire students in science, mathematics, history and the arts. Started in 1990, Camp Invention is now offered in 48 states, and 66,000 students throughout the United States participated in the educational experience in 2008. Invent Now Kids is the parent organization for Camp Invention and a subsidiary of the National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation (NIHF), which was founded in 1973 by the United States Patentand Trademark Office (USPTO)to raise awareness of inventors and their inventions. Camp Invention was designed to offer students in first through sixth grades the opportunity to learn how to solve complex problems and develop solutions through innovation. The USPTO funds the non-profit organization through annual grants and has a close working relationship with the staff for Invent Now Kids and the Camp Invention program.

Hands-on Experience

Invent Now Kids, headquartered in Akron, Ohio, is a non-profit organization committed to offering a hands-on educational experience to elementary age students. The week-long program is marketed to school districts throughout the United States where students work through five modules to discover problems and develop solutions. According to Michael Schwabe, the public relations director for Invent Now Kids, educators encourage students to “boil-down” complex ideas into smaller problems that elementary students can understand. The program immerses the students in an interactive educational experience that is story-based. The students work as individuals and teams to develop solutions to problems building in complexity throughout the week. The emphasis is on the process and not the “perfect” solution. Students are encouraged to develop ideas, and if the solution does not work for that specific problem they are encouraged to see if it might be a solution to another problem. Reverse-engineering and trial and error are key teaching aids in the curriculum and the program is designed to allow students to gain a sense of accomplishment each day as they define and analyze the problems and identify possible solutions.

Because the program is tuition-based, it is available at no cost to the schools. Invent Now Kids has eighteen regional program coordinators canvassing. If a school offers a program the materials and training manuals are mailed to the school. The school or community provides the site location and staffs it with educators. Invent Now Kids provides the curriculum. There is abase cost for students that can vary by school district based on available sponsorship and scholarship programs in the area. The average program size is 62 students (120 is the maximum and 30 is the minimum). Parent volunteers and teen counselors add another dimension to the program and increase the total individuals who benefit from the experience.

Camp Invention Students at Work

School districts can choose between three distinct curricula – Create, Discover and Explore. Each program consists of five modules with approximately 6.5 hours of training materials. The programs are unique and change annually, so schools can continue to offer new educational opportunities each summer through the camp.

Inquiry-based Instruction

Sunnyside Elementary School in Great Falls, Montana held its firstCamp Inventionin 2008 with 73 participants. Program director Ryan Edwards, a fifth grade teacher at the elementary school, praised the program for its inquiry-based instruction. “The program allowed the students to be the instructors and the learners while the teachers served as facilitators through guided questions.” The students at Sunnyside worked their way through the Create program where they faced several problems on “Planet ZAK©.” During one module the students designed a space station protecting them from acid rain. They developed their solution while being sprayed with water.

The students were then tasked with building a contraption out of recycled materials that would cross the contaminated swamp and retrieve their food supplies – popcorn. According to Edwards, the students were challenged to think outside the box, share ideas and develop a working solution. Most of the groups successfully developed a “contraption” they could remotely guide across the swamp to retrieve the food. In another module the students were given a skateboard and tasked with building a safer skateboard. In a third module they were instructed to breakdown old appliances and build something new to break a water balloon in three or four steps.

Program Success

The program was so successful at Sunnyside Elementary School the district is offering the program in Great Falls again this year. Based on surveys of parents, educators and participants the program has a 90 percent approval rating nationwide.

Those interested in hosting or participating in the Camp Invention programcan visit the website at http://www.invent.org/camp or call 800-968-4332.

About the Author:

Tanya Reinhardt is an associate editor for CTQ Media and also serves as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves. While on active duty she served in numerous overseas assignments and worked several years as a military public affairs officer. She has a master’s in public administration from the University of Oklahoma. Contact Tanya Reinhardt at tanya.reinhardt (at) isixsigma.com.