STEM-based camp encourages children to create, dismantle and dream in the name of learning

By Lindsay Weber - editorial@nwherald.com Published: Sunday, June 18, 2017 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, June 19, 2017 12:05 a.m. CDT
Sarah Nader - snader@shawmedia.com Leadership intern Shannon Batliner (center), 16, of Crystal Lake helps campers Jillian Estrada (left), 7, of Crystal Lake and Dominika Strojny, 8, of Crystal Lake take apart an old machine while attending Camp Invention at Indian Prairie Elementary School in Crystal Lake Tuesday, June 13, 2017. During the activity campers learned to reverse engineer old machines and devices and use their parts to create a spy gadget alarm box. The weeklong program includes hands-on problem solving, collaboration and the use of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. — Sarah Nader

CRYSTAL LAKE – STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math – have grown in popularity in many schools across the country. The loud cry for innovation encourages students of all ages to put their hands on, instead of up, in the classroom. The campers of Crystal Lake’s Camp Invention are eager to take hold.

Founded in Akron, Ohio, in 1990, by the National Inventors Hall of Fame and supported by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the national program offers kindergarteners through sixth-graders a place where their ideas can run free and possibilities are endless. Campers have the opportunity to explore the wonderful world of invention and thinking not just why, but why not?

Camp Director Kristin Thorsen brought the program to the Crystal Lake area in 2002. Originally approached by parents in the area with the idea, Thorsen presented it to the Crystal Lake Administration Office for School District 47. The agreement was contingent on having a director for the camp, and Thorsen stepped up.

This year’s camp June 12-16 at Indian Prairie Elementary School comprised of 96 campers focusing on five modules explored over five days.

“The curriculum reaches kids in a way that they become so engaged,” Thorsen said. “They wish that school could be like this all of the time. It offers kids the opportunity to experience all of the STEM fields in a hands-on way where they are inventing and creating during every module of the day.”

The camp employs more than 30 staff members, a mix of certified teachers, interns and volunteers.

Keenan Wresch, 22, of Crystal Lake is a former camper whose attendance started in elementary school. Wresch recently graduated from Purdue University with a degree in computer science, a career path of which he says Camp Invention definitely played a part.

“The camp offered me an opportunity to explore creative outlets,” Wresch said. “I was able to take apart an item and build it into something new. That’s not something I could have just done at my kitchen table. I could work with my hands and be scientifically focused. I really had no other way of experiencing that.”

Wresch is off to Washington, D.C., to pursue a career as a cyber security engineer, but not before acting as a leadership intern at this year’s camp.

“I come back because I enjoy it,” Wresch said. “I like the environment and working with the kids and the exposure to a younger generation. Being able to encourage them and help them achieve goals they might have is great.

“I was talking to a girl that was crying and upset because she was afraid she wasn’t creative enough. We’re going to approach that with her and show her she’s more creative than she thinks she is. We are really going to push their understanding of their own limits. Show them you don’t always have to follow the rules. There’s a lot of benefit in that.”

This year’s modules include Duct Tape Billionaire, in which children met virtually with National Inventors Hall of Fame inductee and Electronic Ink inventory JD Albert. Campers gained insight into being an inventor and entrepreneur by creating duct tape accessories, learning about the process from conception to launch.

Mission Space Makers has campers think about the preparation for human habitation on a new planet. Challenges include exploration of the exoplanet for human modification, space lab setup and growing crystal trees.

Operation Keep Out allows campers to explore the inner workings of every day products, taking apart an item of their choosing to discover what truly makes it tick. Oh yeah, they also build a Spy Gadget Alarm Box.

Operation Keep Out is a favorite of fifth-year camper Joey Macro. The 11-year-old Lakewood resident brought in a bread maker to take apart. He had never seen the inside of a bread machine and wanted to figure it out. A camp invention veteran, Joey said he feels more comfortable each year sharing his ideas.

“I’ve seen everyone a few times now, and I know all the teachers,” Joey said. “I know I can express my ideas, and I know what the modules are going to be like. I’m more comfortable. I know what I need to think about going into the module.”

In Have a Blast, flinging, flying and floating are highly encouraged. Campers engineer a variety of high-flying contraptions including air cannons, water rockets and bubble blasters.

Joey’s younger brother, 7-year-old Cooper, is in his second year of camp and is a fan of Have a Blast.

“Cooper came home really excited because he was told about some YouTube videos that can show him how to build more soda pop rockets,” said Joey and Cooper’s mother, Stephanie Macro. “They both really like STEM class in school, and this was like all day STEM class for a whole week. It gives them more time to explore these different concepts and testing their ideas and theories. It’s a great time for them to immerse themselves in the hands-on experience and see how they relate to the real world.”

Cooper said he also was a fan of the take apart exercise.

“I took apart a radio. I really like to see how things work,” Cooper said. “There was this gear thing that went across the back. The tuner. I really like STEM, and I like the building and breaking.”

Campers also participate in a games module. Most of the games include water with fun names such as drip, drip, drip, fish freeze tag and kangaroo hop, where campers carry water balloons rolled up in the bottom of their shirts, meant to act as their kangaroo pouch.
Daily newsletters are available for parents to take home featuring connection questions and ways to keep the STEM going at home, and to experience camp from their child’s perspective.

“Camp invention continues to bring us amazing and exciting curriculum,” Thorsen said. “Our goal is to have every camper leave after a successful week and continue to want to explore the STEM fields moving forward

For additional information and to find a camp in your area, visit http://campinvention.org.

Additional Camps in the area:

Matthews Middle School, Island Lake
week of June 19 - June 23

Prairieview School, Hainseville, IL
week of July 10 - July 13