Lessons learned, problems solved at engineering camp

  • 10 year-old Magnus Harrison shows off his marble track at engineering camp held in Whately Elementary School, Aug. 17, 2017.

  • Xander Bakke, 10, center, uploads sequences to a robot during engineering camp at Whately Elementary School Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.

  • Engineering camp in Whately Elementary School Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.

  • Engineering camp in Whately Elementary School Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.

Recorder Staff
Published: 8/17/2017 9:00:17 PM

WHATELY — The 31 bright young minds tinkered, collaborated, and expanded Thursday at Camp Invention.

“This is my simple incline track slash marble boxer,” said 10-year-old Magnus Harrison of Deerfield, at the week-long engineering program held in Whately Elementary School.

Around Magnus, foam pipe insulation snaked under classroom chairs, over tables, directing marbles into fan switches and matchbox cars.

“I drop a marble down the chute, it rolls around and falls into the box because the slope of this end is greater than that end,” Magnus explained.

Since Monday, children from kindergarten through 5th grade have built Lego structures, “marble mazes,” K’nex towers, self-driving cars, and robots. Each day students received a new challenge and raw materials, watched an inspirational video about the subject, and then tackled the objective. Build a bridge, propel a car, lift an object.

Lessons are cumulative. Today they’ll create a “monster trap” triggered by marbles.

“How they go about doing it is up to them,” said Donna Carmody, a 4th grade Sunderland Elementary School teacher. There’s no correct way to complete the challenges. One student put floss inside their marble track “because it’s slippery,” Carmody said. “And who’s to say it’s wrong?”

“One of the most important skills is collaboration. Nobody owns any idea,” she continued. A few students substituted their own materials to complete projects, such as a straw instead of a wooden axle. Others created a pulley system out of a cardboard box, forgoing cups given for that purpose.

Camp Invention, which ends today, is based on Makerspace, a national initiative that promotes hands-on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. Students learn hard scientific principles like Newton’s first law of motion, according to Louise Law, Union 38 school system’s director of elementary curriculum. Union 38 oversaw the program.

“They’re learning self reflection, and how to take a ‘failure’ of design” and turn it into a success, Law said. “What’s the problem? How are you going to solve it? Revision.”

At one table, Xander Bakke, 10, uploaded code sequences to a Lego robot from a laptop. Elsewhere, Tyler Wolkowicz, 10, showed off a half-foot bridge designed and built Tuesday that can support about 100 pounds.

“It’s only made of Popsicle sticks and duct tape. It can hold Henry and me,” said student Maggie Nichols, there with her sister, Sadie Nichols.

Looking to next year’s summer camp, Carmody said teachers intend to focus on task-oriented problem solving. Union 38 schools in southern Franklin County will also incorporate engineering design, similar to the summer camp’s approach, into its yearly curriculum.

The program challenges “students’ thinking and stimulates their creativity. I am inspired by the teachers who worked hard to develop a creative, exciting program to encourage thinking, problem solving, and collaboration around engineering design projects,” said Union 38 Superintendent Lynn Carey.

Law noted the summer camp is offered for a sliding scale fee, and scholarships are available.

“It’s so cool to hear kids talk like engineers,” said Whately Elementary School Principal Peter Crisafulli. “What this has taught us is that kids really love STEM.”

You can reach Andy Castillo

at: acastillo@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 263

On Twitter: @AndyCCastillo


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