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Students explore STEM subjects through Camp Invention

MONTE DRAPER \ BEMIDJI PIONEER Headwaters Science Center instructor Kitura Mann, left, helps Nathaniel Smith, Holden Zacher and Gabriel Ware as they learn about magma and earthquakes Wednesday during the weeklong Camp Invention at the Science Center.1 / 2
MONTE DRAPER \ BEMIDJI PIONEER Thirty-five students are involved in a weeklong Camp Invention at the Headwaters Science Center. Shown above, HSC instructor Sue Swartz finishes up a geocaching adventure as students unlock a box with the hidden goods.2 / 2

BEMIDJI -- On Wednesday morning, children huddled around tables at the Headwaters Science Center, examining plates full of red goo.

"We're playing with magma," said Isaac Christmann, who soon will begin sixth grade in the Kindred Public School District in North Dakota.

"We're playing with magma now, but we'll get to see how the plates act on the magma" to simulate how earthquakes develop, said Addie Dauner, who will start fifth grade in the Schoolcraft Learning Community.

The Headwaters Science Center this week is hosting a weeklong Camp Invention, offering 35 elementary-aged students adventures in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM subjects).

Students are presented with scenarios and, working together in teams, come up with creative problem-solving techniques to address specific challenges.

For instance, one section of students on Wednesday were tasked with coming up with a way to retrieve a backpack that had fallen down a mountain (or, in this case, the basement staircase).

As their colleagues constructed fishing pole-like devices or attached golf balls to long strings in hopes of snagging the backpack, a four-student team from Lincoln Elementary took a different approach.

"We made sleds," said Kyler Reile, a first-grader working alongside second-graders Kaitlyn Detschman, Cole Evje and Zachary Roberts. The theory was they would ride down on the sleds -- one designed to hold two people the other, four -- and get the backpack themselves.

Different challenges were to be explored today: a student in Sudan will ask for help in constructing a bicycle that would enable him to peddle to and from school during sandstorms, a child in Hawaii will look for a "turbo-lift system" that would get him from the beach to high ground very quickly in case of a tsunami and a youngster in Cuba will seek ideas for constructing a hurricane-proof house.

"It involves a lot of teamwork," said Chris Tolman, camp director. "It's problem-solving and working together, learning to listen to other ideas ... great life skills."

Christmann, Dauner and their tablemate, Calder Karger, a fifth-grader at Lincoln, detailed one of their earlier adventures. Then, they learned about navigation as obstacles were sprinkled on the floor throughout a specific area. A student then was blindfolded and directed, by a selected student "captain," on how to maneuver around the objects to get from one side to the other.

"I was a pretty bad captain," Christmann said.

Another experience was the Cache Dash, a geocaching experience through which students navigated to treasure-filled caches.

Ella Larson, a third-grader in Blackduck, was part of the student section that had on Wednesday just unveiled their treasure chest, filled with candy and objects that might aid them in future quests.

"We tried two combinations" before the safe opened, she said.

Camp Invention, offered in partnership with Invent Now, aims to immerse children in imaginative play that reinforces and supplements school-year learning. For example, in a Launchitude event, children disassemble broken or unused appliances and use those pieces to construct a "chuck-a-duck" device that can propel a yellow rubber ducky through the air.

The camp concludes Friday with a 2:45 p.m. showcase for family and friends to show off their creations and demonstrate what they have done and learned.

"It's really a lot of fun," Tolman said. "The kids really learn a lot about communication and working together."