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Youngsters turn inventors during Franklin camp

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A cereal box and a soda bottle gave one student an idea.

Ava Ray, 10, a student at Union Elementary School, found that two soda bottles taped together would make a rocket, complete with boosters on the side, and a cardboard box would make a good launch pad.

For Ray and dozens of other students from across the county, this week was one of trial and error and experimentation. By the end of the week, each student had invented something.

A total of 85 children attended Camp Invention at Creekside Elementary School in Franklin this week. They tore apart old computer keyboards to make pinball machines. They repurposed latex gloves to make bionic hands and turned tissue boxes into mock guitars.

Camp Invention is a national science, technology, engineering and mathematics program that is meant to give students a an opportunity to be creative that they may not have in school, organizers said.

“We really wanted to provide a creative outlet for kids over the summer,” said Julie Tennell, co-director of the camp and a biology teacher at Franklin Community High School. “We always hear about summer learning loss. The more they are thinking and using these skills, the better they will be.”

Camp Invention also has been a summer tradition at Westwood Elementary School in Greenwood for at least five years, and Center Grove schools has hosted camps.

In Franklin, campers used the weeklong camp to invent and learn. They built cars using a kit, drew and made a prototype of their own invention, made bionic body parts and taped cardboard and keyboard letters together to make pinball machines.

The point of the camp is letting youngsters use their imaginations to invent, Tennell said.

All of the skills they pick up at camp will help them become successful in school, Tennell said. Students have to solve a problem without a textbook or teacher telling them how they should fix a failed part on their invention or what materials to use on their pinball machine.

“(The camp) provides skills they will need for the rest of their life,” she said. “They have to look at a problem and solve it creatively without having an answer. It’s not a multiple choice test.”

Organizers spent a semester gathering supplies. Piles of plastic bottles were in huge tubs. Empty cereal and tissue boxes and oatmeal canisters were piled high. Students brought in old radios, computer towers and coffee makers that they could rip apart to make their inventions.

During the camp, students rarely heard the word “no” when they proposed an idea, Tennell and students said.

“What is best about it is, there is no right or wrong answer,” Tennell said.

The national organization provided some guidance on curriculum. Videos walked students through some inventions, depicting how aluminum foil and cardboard could be used, for example. But mostly everything was a child’s idea, Tennell said.

The freedom to explore was the best part of the camp, Ava said.

“It’s been a blast every single day,” she said. “Since we are at school, it is hard to believe that we can make anything our minds can imagine.”

The camp allows more freedom for creativity than school, Tennell said. During the school year, teachers have to focus on meeting state standards, she said.

Students said they enrolled because they like science, thought it sounded like fun or needed something to do over their summer break.

Ethan Buening, 10, a student at Custer Baker Intermediate School, wanted a place to try something new.

“You get to do stuff you don’t get to do in school,” he said. “You get to try stuff you haven’t done before.”

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