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July 8, 2013

A week of innovation kicks off at Camp Invention

As Camp Invention got underway on Monday, July 8, Niskayuna students in one classroom were designing their own motorized creatures. In another room, students were taking apart household appliances so that they could be repurposed to help rubber ducks re-enter their natural habitat - by catapult.

Nearly 70 students in grades 4-6 are participating in the camp at Niskayuna High School from July 8-12. Students will be rotating through activities in four modules, or units, focused on the camp theme - innovate. This is the first year that Camp Invention is being held in Niskayuna.

The four units are designed to be fun introductions to engineering concepts and challenges. The camp will conclude with an inventor's showcase on Friday.

"We want to promote problem-solving and creative thinking, as well as working in teams and recognizing the value of everyone's ideas," said camp director and Niskayuna teacher Mary Hanchar. "The whole idea is to find solutions that improve a society or a system or to make life easier."

The camp also challenges students to use traditional materials in a non-traditional way to address an issue or a challenge. For example, on the first day of the camp, students in the "Launchitudeâ„¢" classroom discussed the challenge of building a device from defunct household appliance parts that is capable of catapulting the ducks back home - a plastic, backyard pool.

"The ducks from the pool are lost and we have to get them back in," said one student, explaining the challenge. "Somehow, they ended up in our classroom."

One group discussed if a ramp made out of an old desktop computer component would help, or if a slingshot would be the best way to go.

In another classroom, students were beginning to attach motors to creatures that they were making from Styrofoam blocks, pipe cleaners, golf tees, and duct tape. Students will later create habitats that their creatures will navigate. The unit that also incorporates the alternative energies of wind and solar.

"It's going to be a dog," said one student, holding up her creature. "I have a motor here and when I attach it, the legs will move." She added that she would use a piece of felt to hide the motor and make a leash out of a pipe cleaner.

In another unit, students will explore how to improve a virtual world gone wrong through avatars that they create. A fourth module, "Geo-Games" combines physical activity and creativity. Students will find out that all games can be modified, and made more fun, with nontraditional approaches.

Students seemed to be up to the challenge of a camp based on the theme of innovation.

"The kids have been generating a lot of great ideas," said Valerie Maxwell, who is a teacher at Iroquois. "I'm impressed. They are very creative and thinking outside of the box."

Camp Invention is part of a district initiative designed to provide students with exposure to and hands-on experiences in the growing "STEAM" areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Math.