BELLBROOK — Shelley Smith’s third and fourth grade students logged in to their final Google Meet meeting of Camp Invention. Their robots were nearby. When Smith gave the signal, the students turned on their robots so they played music, flashed lights, and spun around.
There, from their own kitchens, offices or living rooms, they had a dance party.
Earlier in the week, the students had disassembled these robots to understand how they worked. This was one of the activities elementary school students participated in earlier this month during Bell Creek Intermediate School’s Camp Invention.
Bell Creek typically holds this camp in person, but it was online this year due to coronavirus restrictions.
Camp Invention is a summer day camp for kindergarten-sixth grade students created by the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Kids participate in hands-on and collaborative STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities. This year’s camp ran from July 13-17.
Using a box of materials Camp Invention sent to their homes, each student launched rockets, figured out how to get rid of pollution, and designed their own inventions, among other projects.
Amanda Hof, a former Bell Creek fourth grade math and science teacher who coached first-graders during camp, said her favorite activity was the one that asked students to design sports complexes. (Hof changed jobs this summer and now works for another district.)
One of her students designed a stadium with cannons he formed out of clay. He wanted them to fire across the field every time a team scored a certain number of points in a sport he made up for the project.
Hof, who participated in Camp Invention for the three years she taught at Bell Creek, said teaching students over Google Meet rather than in person was challenging. It was difficult to explain concepts fully.
But she said that Camp Invention created videos and presentations that students could access outside of instruction hours if they needed help understanding something.
Hof and Smith met with their classes at 9 a.m. each day to explain the day’s activities. They met again in the afternoons so the kids could ask questions and present their projects from the day.
Smith, who has participated in Camp Invention for two years, said her favorite activity was an eco-rescue.
Each student received a different animal that they had to return to its ecosystem via parachute. Each different ecosystem required a different plan. The kids had to use something from their own house as a parachute, so they repurposed coffee filters and plastic bags.
In previous years, students worked on projects together, getting ideas and assistance from their fellow campers. This year, they worked mostly on their own, Smith said.
However, Smith and Hof described how, when they met with students in the afternoons, they asked them to share what they had worked on. That way, other students could get ideas, learn, ask questions, and give suggestions.
They also said that families were more involved this year. In some families, siblings were participants in the camp, so they could work together.
Because their kids were at home, parents got to see everything their kids were working on, not just their final projects, according to Hof.
“I think they definitely had a great, enriching experience at home,” she said.
On Friday, students presented one or some their projects from the week to their class.
One of Smith’s students presented an idea for a pet translator that would tell people what their pets were thinking or saying.
“I was like, ‘You guys are so smart! If you can really invent that, people will buy it!’ ” Smith said.
Hof said participating in STEM activities like these teaches students life skills like perseverance and problem solving.
She also said STEM-related jobs are prolific in Ohio. According to ohio.gov, some of the most in-demand jobs in the state are in medical and technology fields. Hof said she thinks it’s important to prepare students to go into those careers to help improve the economy and the world.
“The sooner that we can get them excited and passionate about learning possibilities,” she said, “I think the better it will be for them in the future.”