For five days last week, a group of 54 elementary-age students had the opportunity to study math and science in a very creative environment provided by Camp Invention. The week-long camp was held at the Crowder College Watley Center in Cassville.
Students in first through sixth grades had the freedom to develop their critical thinking skills and experience the traditionally staid subjects of math and science in fresh ways through the Camp Invention curriculum.
The program, created by the National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation in partnership with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, utilizes three curriculum modules during each session. The students, who were divided by grade into three groups, cycled through each of the modules during the week.
Planet ZAK, taught by Janna Ragland, focused on developing critical thinking skills along with the student's imagination. Groups brainstormed about various scenarios that could occur if they landed on an unfamiliar planet and had to survive.
"The third and fourth grade group crash landed, built shelter, created protective clothing and then had to figure out how to get across acid water with flesh-eating fish to reach their food source," said Kriya Callahan, camp director. "One fourth grader came up with idea of developing a ray gun that you shot into the acid water, which changed the molecular structure of the water, turning the river to regular water and the fish to regular fish, which then became the food source.
"It's just awesome to see kids thinking this way and sharing their ideas with the group," added Callahan.
The second module, taught by Stacey Hopper, was entitled "Imagination Point" and allowed students to design roller coasters.
"This section taught Newton's three laws of motion and physics concepts, and the kids absolutely had a blast doing it," said Callahan.
"Spills and Chills," taught by Becky Ryder, was the third module. This section allowed kids to conduct safety testing. Their first assignment was to design a safer skateboard and the second involved building small cars and crash testing them for safety.
"For the crash testing, we used eggs for people," said Callahan. "We went through 13 dozen eggs during the week."
In the afternoons, students were divided into two groups to participate in games and the "I Can Invent" part of the program. During this segment, students took apart an item they brought from home and reassembled the parts into a new invention.
Joshua Akers, age 11, said this segment of camp was his favorite part of each day's activities.
"I must say, I really liked taking my can opener apart and turning it into a lock," said Akers, who is the son of Max and Emily Akers, of Ridgley.
"The whole thing was a blast," said Callahan. "We all had a really good time. The teachers were very tired at the end of the week, but everyone was very accommodating and flexible."
Camp Invention staff members included: Callahan, director; Chemine Swanger, assistant director; Ryder, Ragland and Hopper, teachers; Sherry Willard, Stacy Greer and Darla Horner, counselors; and Ashlynn Hill, Donny Lawrence, Jaira Ragland, Janay Ragland, Jordyn Ragland, Jeremy Thomas, Christina Willard and Whitley Willard, teenage helpers.
"This group was willing to do whatever was necessary to make Camp Invention successful for the children," said Callahan. "And it was."
According to Callahan, every segment of the day was a learning opportunity.
"The big thing throughout the week was that the kids were brainstorming all the time and thinking about thinking," said Callahan. "The atmosphere was so free and safe and kids could really explore their imaginations."
"The goal of Camp Invention is to promote math and science literacy skills and promote a joy of learning those subjects, and I think we were successful," added Callahan.
Grace Gouvion, the 9-year-old daughter of Mark and Tammy Gouvion, of Cassville, said she loved attending Camp Invention.
"It's fun," said Grace. "You learn to work with a group and have teamwork and you get new friends."
This is the first year that Camp Invention has been offered in Cassville, and organizers of this year's event hope the program returns next summer.
The program would not have been possible without the support of the community, Callahan said. Local businesses contributed $5,500 in scholarships, which allowed more area parents to afford the $200 per camper fee.
"We had an outpouring of generosity," Callahan said. "The offers of support were just instantaneous. Once they realized it's for the kids and it's for the community, they gave whatever we needed."
Businesses who helped sponsor Camp Invention included: Able 2, Wal-Mart, Crowder College Watley Center, Cassville IDC, Willis Insurance, Cassville Rotary Club, Taco Bell, B & P, Ramey's, Barry County Abstract, Seven Valleys Realty and the Barry County Soroptimist Club.
Callahan also credits Angela Seymour, Watley Center director, with bringing Camp Invention to the attention of Crowder College officials, who allowed their campus in Cassville to be used as the site for the camp.
Camp Invention attracted several homeschoolers as well as students from Cassville, Shell Knob, Monett, Carthage and McDonald County school districts.
Since its inception in 1990, the Camp Invention program has grown to include more than 800 sites in 44 states. In Missouri, Camp Invention is offered at four different sites in the St. Louis area and now Cassville.
The program promotes hands-on, inquiry-based learning utilizing a curriculum that is aligned with national and state education standards.