Lobbing hay bales to cattle, saving water balloons and drawing with robots are being explored this week at this year's "Supercharged" Camp Invention.
In its seventh year at Neshannock Elementary School, 102 students from 10 school districts who will be entering kindergarten through grade six are taking part.
"The kids get so excited about each project," said director Alicia Measel.
The program is sponsored nationally by the National Inventors Hall of Fame, which selects the challenges. About 1,600 campers participate nationwide. This year's program, with a superhero theme, allows students to use their STEM skills to solve problems through collaboration, entrepreneurship and innovation projects.
Yesterday, second-graders used real tools to build remote control robots. This taught them about circuit boards, motors and gears. The robots were then adapted for use in games, creating art and other tasks.
Fourth-graders on Wednesday built boats using balsa wood, plastic, clay, straws, muffin cups, foil and anything they found in the supply room (which is stuffed with recyclable plastics), Styrofoam balls and other items donated by parents.
"They build, put sails on it and see if it is seaworthy and can carry cargo," said teacher Halee Sikorski. The winning projects, she said, are those that float and carry the most cargo — washers — before sinking.
Other aspects of the program involved creating underwater equipment and creating island survival tools.
Farm Tech students, working with Dr. Stephanie Corrette-Bennett, learn how to create and manage a farm, addressing business basics from buying a herd of cattle to launching hay bales into fields to feed the cows. They also learned about genetics, keeping their herd healthy and how cows are milked.
The fifth- and sixth-graders on Wednesday put their STEM experiences to use at the Camp Invention Games, deciding how to protect a water balloon which was dropped from a "good height."
Teacher Kelly Robles said three teams achieved success, two experienced losses when their balloons broke.
Team Overprotective Balloon Parents, consisting of Mara Medure, Gianna Paglia, Mia Peluso and Katelynn Pauline, was a winner, wrapping their balloon in duct tape and devising a double parachute of plastic grocery bags. Another group shielded their balloon baby in a box before dropping it, also using a parachute.
The kindergartners and first-graders on Wednesday became caped crusader superheroes who learned how to save their creative ideas from super villain Plagiarizer, as they learned about intellectual property and patents.
"We all look forward to this every year," Measel said. "It's always something different." She added that all groups participate in all curriculum modules over the course of the week.
Teaming up with Measel was assistant director Bobbi Medure. Teachers Michele Lockley and Lesley Herman worked with Sikorski, Corrette-Bennett and Robles with assistant instructors Regina Manos, Judy DeMatteo, Amy Allshouse and Jane Oglietti.
High school and college students participated as leadership interns. They are Taylor Rand, Hannah Kwiat, Isabella Hassan, Mary Omer, Haley Montague, Margo Silverman, Logan DeMofonte, Lucas Doutt and Nico Johnson. Participating school districts this year were Neshannock, Wilmington, Union, Laurel, New Castle, New Castle Christian Academy, Portersville Christian, Lincoln Park, West Middlesex and Ellwood City.
Local sponsors also make the program possible. The new prime sponsor this year was the May Emma Hoyt Foundation, which contributed $8,400.
"This subsidized the first 80 students to sign up," Measel said. "They paid only $125 for the camp." Normally, she said, the cost is $230 per student.
Additional sponsorship by Lawrence County Community Action Partnership and the Neshannock Township Education Foundation covered the cost of staff, including camp nurse Sara Bender, and provided scholarships for 29 campers who paid only $25 to participate.