Finding shelter from the acid rain is the first order of business after crashing on Planet Zak. This is accomplished by taping plastic garbage bags to the edges of tables and hiding underneath. “The lights flash on and off and the teacher comes around with a spray bottle,” says Sophie Vojta, 10, of Rolla.
After the acid rain stops, Vojta and her friends venture out of their makeshift shelters to have a look around. But visibility is an issue. To solve this problem, the kids use their supplies (paper cups and strings) to build binoculars.
“At least I don’t have to do a math test,” says Jefferson Thomas, 9, of Houston, Mo.
But Thomas does learn that Planet Zak is 7,926 Zakian miles in diameter and that it’s 8.2 million Zakian miles from the local sun. He also discovers that the Zakian temperatures range from 36 to 136 degrees Zakius.
Vojta and Thomas were among the nearly 100 elementary school students who attended UMR’s first Camp Invention, a one-week day camp in June. Kids in grades one through five explored Planet Zak, took apart electronic appliances and learned what Newton’s Laws have to do with amusement park rides. Five classrooms in the UMR Computer Science Building were devoted to various activities.
An instructor, a camp counselor and a volunteer were stationed in each classroom to monitor the learning environments – which, as Newton might have predicted, involved lots of little bodies in motion.
One thing Grace Sutcliffe learned, though, is that dismantling a telephone at the “Take Apart” station demands your full attention. Sutcliffe, a fifth-grader from Napa, Calif., and other campers peered through seemingly oversized safety goggles at tables cluttered with old phones, radios, VCRs and computers. The kids were then given screwdrivers, wire cutters and needle-nose pliers for the expressed purpose of performing random operations.
This was the essence of Camp Invention – introducing kids to the inner-workings of things, letting them play around, not holding them accountable for too much information that exists outside of their imaginations. Sutcliffe says she really enjoyed taking things apart. “I learned that the insides of phones are really shiny,” she says.