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Camp Invention teaches students STEM skills in a fresh, fun way
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A student learns about physics and energy through his “Marble Arcade” project during Camp Invention at Dawson County Junior High School. - photo by Erica Jones

Last week, dozens of children flocked to Dawson County Junior High School to participate in Camp Invention, a week-long summer camp designed to teach students important STEM skills in a fun and exciting way. 

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Students learn about ocean research and design their own ocean creature habitats during Camp Invention at Dawson County Junior High School. - photo by Erica Jones

Camp Invention is a nationally recognized non profit summer program by the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) in partnership with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Each year, schools across the country host Camp Invention for local students, and Dawson County has hosted the camp each year since 2016. 

This year’s camp took place at Dawson County Junior High School from June 20 through 24. According to Dawson County’s Camp Director Renee Rogers, this year 200 students ranging in age from rising kindergartners to fifth grade attended camp. 

“Overall we have 200 elementary school students, we have 12 middle school volunteers, we have three parent volunteers and 30 high school volunteers,” Rogers said. “So it’s amazing participation.” 

Each day at camp, the students were separated out by age groups and placed in different classrooms at the junior high school. Ten Dawson County teachers, representing each of the elementary schools in the district, the middle school and the junior high school, then rotated through each classroom to work with the students on different modules every day. 

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A student learns about space and experiments with his “Astro Arm” device during Camp Invention at Dawson County Junior High School. - photo by Erica Jones

“The teachers are able to differentiate based on the level of the student, so even though we may have the same activity going on it’s differentiated based on the age level,” Rogers said. 

Each teacher was able to choose which module he or she wanted to teach, allowing them to teach something they were passionate about. 

“The beauty of it is, the teachers get to choose which module they want to teach, so it’s something that they are passionate about and everything that they have left over they get to take back to their own classroom,” Rogers said. 

This year’s Camp Invention theme was “Explore”, and the week was aimed at allowing students to explore their creativity and innovation through fun, hands-on activities. Students brought in their own “inventor supplies” from home, demonstrating that they didn’t need a robotics kit or special equipment in order to be creative. 

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A student designs spin art during Camp Invention at Dawson County Junior High School. - photo by Erica Jones

“Their ‘inventor supplies’ could be empty paper towel rolls, empty toilet paper rolls, empty shoeboxes, empty bottles — showing that you can use the junk around your house to be creative,” Rogers said. 

Throughout the week, students participated in several fun modules, including: 

  • Marble Arcade: A module teaching students about physics, engineering and scientific principles like potential and kinetic energy as they design and build their own “marble arcade” game. 

  • The Attic: A module teaching students about inventions that have changed the way that people create. 

  • Robotic Aquatics: A module teaching students about ocean research as they adopt their own aquatic animal and design a habitat for it. 

  • Space-Cation: A module teaching students about space exploration as they build their own “Spacepacks” and “Astro-Arm” devices and collect data on how animals can hatch and grow in space. 

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    Dawson County Schools Superintendent Nicole Lecave and Camp Invention leadership stand in front of one of the signs designed and created by Dawson County students for the camp. - photo by Erica Jones

Students also kept an “inventor’s log” throughout the week, recording everything they did with each project and learning experience. 

“As a retired school teacher, it’s amazing to me that these students are integrating reading, writing, science and social studies all in a ‘play’-type atmosphere; they’re playing with science and it’s amazing,” Rogers said. 

Each year, Dawson County Schools has scholarship funds available to help students attend the camp. According to Rogers, this includes a generous donation from Nordson Corporation and an allotment from the Dawson County Board of Education. This year, scholarships included $10,000 from Nordson and $15,000 from the BOE. 

“Every penny of that goes to pay the students’ tuition to come to camp,” Rogers said. “The instructors are all paid through the National Inventors Society and the high school workers receive volunteer hours that they can accumulate toward their community service cords when they graduate.” 

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Students practice team work with a beach ball game during Camp Invention at Dawson County Junior High School. - photo by Erica Jones

The school system’s food services provided free hot breakfasts and hot lunches for all of the campers, and the custodial staff kept the building clean after each day of camp, Rogers added. 

Each year, enrollment in Camp Invention has increased, and this year was no exception. Rogers said that, as word about Camp Invention spreads each year, the camp just keeps gaining popularity. 

“The number increases every single year; we have 20 more students that have shown up this year than from last year,” Rogers said. “We’ve got students all the way from Florida that relatives told other relatives about coming to camp last year and families made vacation plans to come visit grandparents so that they could actually come to camp — so we’ve got multiple counties, we’ve got multiple states represented, so overall the word has gotten out and we have had so many compliments.” 

This year’s Camp Invention was a huge success, Rogers said, and campers are already excited to return next year. 

“This year’s camp has been absolutely amazing,” Rogers said. “It allows organized learning to continue all through the summer — overall it has just been an amazing week.”