Camp teaches young inventors to think ‘outside the box’

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Amid a flurry of cardboard and tape, young people from across Aroostook intently crafted multilevel tracks Wednesday afternoon to allow marbles to roll from the top of a cardboard arcade structure to the bottom.

“Marble Arcade” was just one project campers worked on last week at Camp Invention, an annual event the National Inventors Hall of Fame sponsors at the University of Maine at Presque Isle.

For the 37 K-6 students, the weeklong camp was a chance to unleash their creativity and have fun inventing with other youngsters. Volunteer instructors and high school helpers made things run smoothly.

“The campers are having so much fun,” said Sarah Sines, a teacher in SAD 45 (Washburn) and camp director. “At the end of the day we often talk about what their favorite activities were from the day and we frequently hear ‘The whole day.’”

Camp Invention challenges children in grades K-6 through hands-on activities, promotes STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning, builds confidence and leadership and encourages entrepreneurship, all in a fun and engaging environment, said Ken Torisky of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. The program has served 1.9 million young inventors since 1990.

One of the best things about the camp is the variety of activities and topics that are offered each of the five days, Sines said. Topics are different each year, so kids who come to camp several years in a row never repeat the same activities.

Besides the marble project, students learned and created through three other modules this year.

In “The Attic,” campers explored motion pictures, created unique shoe sole designs and learned about the use of robots in the art field with an Arty Bot.  “Spacecation” revolved around campers building and modifying space packs that they would use for an imaginary day in space.  “Robotic Aquatics” challenged them to create the prototype of an invention to catch jellyfish from a holding tank and create an aquarium.  

Campers were divided into two groups, with the blue team comprising grades K-3 and the green team including grades 4-6. The event is open to all Aroostook county students in these grades, Sines said.

Older kids get to help, too. Seventh- and eighth-graders can attend Camp Invention again as leaders in training, and high school students can earn 40 community service hours for volunteering as leadership interns.

“We could not operate without our leadership interns,” Sines said. “They are a very important part of this camp.”

Throughout their projects, young campers could go back and forth to a supply room to collect materials, mostly recyclable materials provided by parents to be used in the various projects.  

Besides being a lot of fun, the camp teaches kids about creative problem solving, persistence and confidence, while helping spark an awareness of STEM ideas the students might not otherwise experience, Sines said.

“Campers are encouraged to ‘think outside the box’ when faced with a challenge where there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers,” she said. 

The five-day camp concluded on Friday afternoon, when family members were invited to join their campers for a showcase of their inventions created during the week.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Miles Helstrom of Presque Isle (left) and Dante Knapp of Caribou get a printing lesson as they coat footprint replicas with ink in preparation to transfer the images to paper. “The Attic” was the theme of this afternoon lesson at Camp Invention. (Paula Brewer | The Star-Herald)

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — June 29, 2022 — Campers create marble arcades on day three of Camp Invention at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. From left are camper Ellie Adams of Presque Isle, leadership intern Olivia Jalbert of Presque Isle, and campers Luke Morningstar of Caribou and Anna Diette of Washburn. (Paula Brewer | The Star-Herald)

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