Camp Invention makes science fun

BY ERIC LIGHTNER | JUNE 15, 2012 6:30 AM

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Old, taken-apart electronics and recycled materials lay scattered on the classroom floors at Lucas Elementary, where 45 jubilant students brought their imaginations to life.

"I like it a lot, because I've been engineering since I was 2," 9-year-old Andonis Lysandrou said when showing off his balloon popper named the "Death Clock."

Lysandrou hopes to be an engineer when he grows up.

Students at Camp Invention are reaping of the benefits of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics — or STEM — education.

Camp Invention is an national group that teaches children ages K-12 about the STEM field through interactive experiments and activities.

Jeff Weld, the executive director of the governor's STEMadvisory council, said the interest in the field can start as early as fourth grade.

"Nationally, there is a lot of research piling up. Where are kids getting inspired and where are they getting turned off … Right around the fourth grade is where something happens," he said.

The Camp Invention program has been in Iowa City for two years; it teaches 45 students about STEM-related subjects at a young age, hoping to inspiring them to take up science-related fields later on in life.

The kids who participated in the program at Lucas Elementary, 830 Southlawn Drive, participated in several different events this week, each one designed to get them to think about STEM-related activities in a different way.

The activities ranged from building a balloon popper out of used electronics to making a cardboard city with magnets to guide magnetic cars.

"The kids absolutely love it," Lucas Principal Julia Burton said.

Local elementary schools are not the only places in which Iowa is attempting to increase the popularity of the STEM fields.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad announced on May 4 the launch of several education "hubs" throughout the state for STEM fields. The University of Iowa is one of the six "hubs" to open communication to businesses, educational institutions, and nonprofit groups.

Nicole Jisolfi-Umland — who has been director of two local Camp Invention programs for about nine years — said she has noticed students retaining more information after attending the sessions.

"One student I had last year actually scored better on the Iowa State Assessment because of the material covered in the Camp Invention Project," she said.

STEM initiatives have become increasingly popular nationwide mainly as a way to help the United States produce more students with a desire to work in science related fields.

The importance of including more STEM integration at all levels of education is being taken very seriously, said Pat Highland, the career education coordinator for the Iowa City schools.

"One of the goals [of STEM] is to make the curriculum seem more integrated," he said.

Highland said integrating STEM programs into all facets of education is important.

"The world is simply not divided and separated like that," Highland said, noting that STEM works to bring these seemingly different subjects together.

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