Heir eyes were focused. Their hands were moving with acute precision. Their minds were fixated on solving the problem in front of them.

Because when they stepped through the doors of Camp Invention, local youngsters weren’t students anymore — they were scientists.

Started in Ohio in 1990, Camp Invention has grown into a nationwide summer camp designed to teach students to use both STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — and creativity skills.

The local camp was conducted this week at St. Bartholomew Catholic School, where every seat was filled, giving 110 students a chance to tap into their left-brain skills and learn about scientific principles while also flexing the right side of their brain as they developed new ways to apply those principles in real life.

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“It’s combining science and technology … but also bringing in the invention and creativity side,” said Diana Graman, Columbus Camp Invention coordinator and a teacher at St. Bartholomew Catholic School.

‘Epic’ experience

This year’s camp theme is “Epic,” a program designed to teach students to use hands-on and creative-thinking processes to solve problems.Some of the campers’ activities leaned more toward the scientific side. For example, in the I Can Invent: Maker Studio, the students spent Tuesday learning how to use a battery and two simple wires to illuminate an LED light, focusing on the principles of energy.

The campers then built on those principles to sound an alarm, run a motor, propel a motor and even perform some reverse engineering and take apart household items such as cassette players.

Camper Ethan Trobaugh said science is his favorite subject in school — especially when he learns how it applies to cars and planes — so learning about batteries, wires and energy was right up his alley.

“Science! I love science!” Ethan said with a cheer.

The I Can Invent: Maker Studio was led by Joe Fuehne, director of the local Purdue Polytechnic campus, and other volunteers from the STEM-based university.

Not only did Purdue Polytechnic employees volunteer their time with Camp Invention, but the school also made a monetary donation that allowed several students to receive a scholarship to participate in the $220 tuition week-long camp, Graman said.

Triggering creativity

Other camp activities were more creative in nature.At Epic Park, for example, students had to pretend they had just purchased an island and now had to design all aspects of life on that island — such as transportation, communication and allocation of food supplies.

Some of the campers chose to pursue a simplistic way of life on the island, using basic items such as paper cups tied together with a string as the major form of communication.

But others preferred to live a life of luxury, creating a flying car-boat hybrid that would allow island residents to travel by land, sea or air.

As each team of students developed their island lifestyles, they bounced ideas off other each other, using their fellow campers’ opinions to identify and correct flaws in their designs.

And then there was CrickoBot, a solar-powered, student-created cricket that, when exposed to sunlight, activates its hopping capabilities through vibrations.

Camper Luke Rice said assembling CrickoBot was a little difficult because of how small its pieces were, but he was thrilled when he saw his hard work pay off Monday as the cricket vibrated in the sun.

But the bigger challenge for Luke came after CrickoBot’s initial assembly, when he and his fellow campers were tasked with creating an exoskeleton for the plastic insect. The students had to use their own knowledge and creativity to determine how the exoskeleton should look and what supplies would be needed, then tap into their scientific sides to figure out how to assemble the supplies into a cohesive creation.

Although creating a unique exoskeleton was more difficult than assembling CrickoBot’s prescribed pattern and letting the sun power it up, Luke said he enjoyed the extra challenge that let him use his creativity skills.

Camper Andrea De Alba said normally, activities such as assembling CrickoBot or using wires to illuminate a light are not her scene — she prefers getting lost in a good book.

But because of Camp Invention’s comprehensive curriculum that allows her to use both her creative and critical thinking skills, Andrea said found a new appreciation for math and science.

“I’m taking things apart, making new accomplishments and exploring,” she said.

That newfound love for all areas of education is what Camp Invention is all about, Graman said.

About the program

This year’s Camp Invention theme, “Epic,” allowed students to engage in math, science and creative-thinking activities in five modules:

  • CrickoBot, which allows students to assemble a solar-powered cricket and create its habitat
  • Epic Park, where campers purchase an island and design the day-to-day life on the island
  • I Can Invent: Maker Studio, which allows campers to brainstorm product ideas, build original prototypes using real tools and everyday devices
  • The Lab: Where Pigs Fly, where students learn about a variety of science-based concepts, such as slime, demolition and coding.
  • Camp Invention Games, a recess type activity that allows students to create new rules for their favorite outdoor games

Locally, the camp is open to up to 110 students from all across Bartholomew County and the surrounding areas and is hosted at St. Bartholomew Catholic School.

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.