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A burst of science

Kids in Agua Dulce learn through projects at camp

Posted: July 23, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 23, 2012 2:00 a.m.

First-graders Brielle Flores, left, and Makenna Rogers fill the rocket they made from bottles with water at Agua Dulce Elementary School in Agua Dulce on Friday.

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Stomp, stomp, clap. Stomp, stomp, clap.

“Camp Invention is our name!” cheer 80 students at Agua Dulce Elementary School.

“Being inventors is our game!” they chant to the beat of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

Then soda-bottle rockets launch 20 feet into the air, propelled by pressurized water and screams from science-minded youngsters.

The Agua Dulce youngsters were participating in Camp Invention, a weeklong science camp created by Invent Now Inc. to encourage first- through sixth-grade students to take a hands-on approach to science.

The chance to bring the nationwide curriculum to Agua Dulce Elementary School was provided by a $15,000 grant from Valencia-based Boston Scientific, which reduced the tuition from $240 per student to $50 each during the camp last week.

“They really did an awesome thing for our kids,” said Principal Janet Simons of the medical device manufacturing company.

From July 16-20, camp teams rotated among four different modules where they built, invented and solved.

Campers were presented with problems, guidelines and tools, but they had to think and build their way to a solution, said Meadowlark Elementary School Principal Meghan Freeman.

At each module, kids build contraptions to burst water balloons, survive and return from a new planet’s harsh conditions, construct bottle rockets from recycled materials and design an environmentally friendly town.

“You don’t make any mistakes here,” said Simons. “You just keep going back to the drawing board.”

Camp Invention curriculum focuses on 21st century skills, including problem-solving, creativity and collaboration. “Lots of collaboration,” Simons said.

This type of project-based learning emphasizes the process, not the product, Simons said.

At the “Sludge City” module, campers practiced the scientific method by hypothesizing solutions to filter water for their highly polluted city.

Presented with a table of coffee filters and various kinds of sand, the kids ran red Kool-Aid through a water filtration system until it lightened to a pale pink.

“We’re trying to make a green environment,” said Christian Hunter, 9, as he constructs town buildings and small bikes out of recycled materials. “It took a lot of work,” Hunter said.

Project-based learning has decreased discipline problems and increased excitement, said Simons. It has attracted a number of girls to science, achieving nearly a perfect balance between boys and girls enrolled in the camp, she said.

“It’s nice to see some girls getting involved,” she added.

Project-based learning took a backseat after standards became the focus in schools, but programs like Camp Invention have renewed teacher and student enthusiasm in trial-and-error learning, giving the kids a chance to get their hands dirty.

“They have not stopped talking about it since day one,” said Simons. “The kids are absolutely in heaven, they really are.”

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