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Camp attendees must think outside the box

Camp Invention is run by the U.S. Patent Office and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

By ROSALIND HELDERMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 28, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Marooned in a faraway land, battered by storms and separated from food by a murky swamp, the group will survive only by using problem-solving techniques to work together.

It may sound like the hit television show Survivor, but for 68 Tampa Bay children, it was just a day at camp.

The kids attended Camp Invention, a weeklong program that teaches children about science using hands-on lessons. It ended last week.

During one segment of the camp, the children found themselves stranded on Planet Zak. Zak may look a little like the Florida Canterbury School's high school biology laboratory, but for Camp Invention children it was a hostile alien world.

Only ingenuity, teamwork and a lot of balloons and glue would help the children build rockets to blast off for Earth.

"They all made it home," said Karen Mathews, a Canterbury foreign language teacher during the year and head of Planet Zak for Camp Invention. "The kids just have complete freedom. They really learn creative problem solving."

Founded in 1990, the camp is run in 47 other locations nationwide by the U.S. Patent Office and the National Inventors Hall of Fame. This is the first year a Tampa Bay school has hosted the program.

Second- through sixth-graders learn about physics, motion and, of course, inventions. Each child used pieces of discarded household appliances to build an invention, which the students showed off to parents and friends at a ceremony at week's end.

"I like taking things apart, and I'm very good at breaking things," said 10-year-old Bobby Avila, showing off his invention, a device for listening to alien radio signals.

The cardboard contraption may not work yet, but it looks official, complete with antenna and a volume knob that turns.

The children, mostly Canterbury School students, interact closely with six of the school's teachers and four high school-age counselors who worked non-stop for two weeks to put the program's intensive lessons together.

"You're putting in double-time, but it's worth it," said Nancy Hobby, a science teacher and camp director.

Camp Invention officials declared the Canterbury School program a success and plan to expand the camp to other area schools next summer.

"We didn't have one kid who said, "I'm too tired.' They were just so excited," said camp teacher Mimi Bridges.

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