NEW PALESTINE — If educator Cathy Purciful could design the perfect way to teach a class, it would look a lot like this week’s Camp Invention going on at New Palestine High School through Friday.
Camp Invention is a weeklong national summer learning program that runs from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. It’s designed to teach students in grades 1 through 6 science, technology, engineering and math via unusual projects.
Instructors say the students are also learning some real-world, adult skills for the future.
“It’s a lot of hands on and working in groups,” Purciful said. “They’re going to be doing a lot of backwards engineering, where they’ll take things apart while learning how it works.”
Purciful, a first-grade teacher at Sugar Creek Elementary School, is one of four Southern Hancock teachers with the youngsters this week.
Each teacher also has a high school student as an assistant to make sure the 55 students, whose parents each paid $205 for the camp, have a positive learning experience.
“They’re going to be learning, but it’s not going to be, ‘oh my goodness, I’ve got to learn this for a test,’” Purciful said. “They’re going to want to know it because they want to know it.”
High school teachers Matt Davis, Carolee Tremain and Brandywine Elementary School teacher Elaine Landis are working with Purciful at NPHS, which is one of the many host sites in the state for Camp Invention.
While NPHS is the host site, Camp Invention pays the teachers and assistants along with any cost they have to run the week-long camp.
The nationwide camp was created in the early 1990s by a team of educators who wanted to integrate 21st century learning while promoting fun, hands-on activities that align with state and national educational standards.
While the students will work on science, technology, engineering and math projects in groups, they’ll also have a chance to work alone and discover things through their own creativity and curiosity.
Southern Hancock curriculum director Rhonda Peterson came up with the idea to bring the unusual educational camp to the county.
“In recent years, budget constraints have forced some school districts to limit summer opportunities to those that support remediation efforts, in addition to self-supported camps that revolve around sports,” Peterson said. “We felt that it was important to support a program that encourages academic enrichment as well.”
Peterson said the program is a precursor for students who may be interested in the pre-engineering curriculum at the secondary level.
The students are getting exposed to the four different sets of curriculum through module lessons throughout the week, organizers said.
The main camp project will have the students dismantling electronics and using the parts to build their own working pinball machine.
During the first day of activities, the students were divided into three classes according to age.
Landis helped one group of students understand what happens to the eyes during Lasik eye surgery. Davis spent his time with a different set of students discussing engineering principles to help students build a small motorized car.
Tremain worked with the third set of students on a science project where they mixed a powdered substance with a liquid.
“What does it look like?” Tremain asked the students as they mixed their concoction together in a paper cup with a wooden stick.
“It looks like green slime,” one of the students yelled with glee.
“Oh, we’ve got slime,” Tremain said.
Purciful said the camp is an ideal way to teach children.
“This is how we would do it if we could,” Purciful said. “We’d immerse the students in hands-on group work. We just don’t have the time or the flexibility to do it that way within the school day.”