Kids play with innovation at camp

Tyler Collins, 11, peeks out of a structure being built around him by Garrett Johns, 11, left, and Sam Hall, 11, right, during Camp Invention at Glacier Valley Elementary School on Thursday.

This week children have been building forts, deciphering codes, making goopy gunk and paper wasps nests, among other projects.


All of these projects are part of Camp Invention, where 108 Juneau grade-school students got their math and science groove on in fun ways.

The camp has run all week and ends today.

“I wish I were bored at Camp Invention because then it would last longer,” said second-grader Caden Cunningham.

Students’ time was divided primarily among five topics — Wild: Wondrous Innovations and Living Designs; The Curious Cypher Club; Bounce! An Atomic Journey; Game On: Power Play; I Can Invent: Edison’s Workshop.

The students were divided among age levels and rotated into the topics each day. They also spent time in large group activities.

Camp Director Geoffrey Wyatt’s office had mostly remains of recyclable packaging piled up in one room — the room had been filled at the beginning of the week.

Another room — the I Can Invent class, had stacks of old household appliances — dated computer keyboards, VCR and DVD players, radios and even a remote control car — stacked up around the corners while students used those parts to make a Rube Goldberg-style machine.

They have to create and design a multi-action “machine” in which they use a minimum of six materials and have to roll a ball through or on it. It has to have at least three actions. The number of requirements increases based upon the age of the student.

“There is a lot of communication skills, problem-solving, math and science,” Wyatt explained. “We’re also getting kids to love science more.”
The process also gets students involved with team-work and higher level thinking, Wyatt said.

“I feel like a real sciencer,” said first-grader Carly Phelps.

The Game On group takes traditional games children grow up with like Duck, Duck, Goose (or Grey Duck) and changes the rules.

“They can learn to make more interesting games, more challenging games,” Wyatt said, adding that they link what the core educational groups with the physical activity in Game On.

Curious Cypher Club spent a lot of the week making codes and building club houses. Wyatt said the emphasis is on team work and engineering. Up on the white board were questions and thoughts about codes: What do the messages mean? Who is writing them? What do we need to know?

Wild encouraged students to take innovation and invention from animals. One day focused on animals like the chameleon, which changes its own colors.

Thursday they were building paper wasp nests. They had to construct them just like real wasps do — so they are waterproof. The teacher would take a spray bottle and water down the project to see if it held up. They took the same concept to build cardboard chairs, which had to sustain a child’s weight for 10 seconds without collapsing.

Adam Ferguson taught the Wild section.

“We’ve been doing lots of art projects,” he said. “We’re working on different animals and how they innovate inventions.”
One day they learned about the fire beetle and how it sees infrared. Another focused on the iron-plated snail, which was discovered 12 years ago. The shell helps protect it against its predators, and it gains strength in its shell by eating iron off the ocean floor.

Ferguson hopes students continue to try something different and think about ways to do it better.

Ferguson taught last year at Auke Bay and enjoys teaching the camp. He said it’s interesting to see fifth-graders struggle with a concept, but then watching first-graders nail it.

“It’s first through sixth grade and even at the younger stages we’re trying to give them higher level thinking skills,” Wyatt said.

Bounce! gave the students a week-long look at how atoms and molecules work. Thursday they made a blue goo substance commonly referred to as GAK. Their blue-tinged hands and smiling faces indicated they enjoyed the lesson.

“Today we are explaining compounds, mixtures and solutions,” said teacher Chris Laplante, who taught at Riverbend last year.

He said the compound is a liquid that sometimes acts like a solid when it has pressure on it.

“To make it, you put two substances together that chemically react,” he said. “They thought it was really cool. I think this is the loudest they’ve been all week.”

Today — the last day of the camp, the students will have gained enough knowledge and skill to be able to create a bouncy ball.

“These hands-on science activities were the most fun to teach,” Laplante said. “It equalizes the playing field for everybody. If they have trouble in reading or writing they don’t have to do that.”

The program was taught by five Juneau school teachers, with the help of 10 high school student volunteer counselors and parents.

For more information on Camp Invention see and

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at More photos of camp activities are available online.


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