Camp Invention emphasizes creativity

August 4 2008

While many elementary and middle school students were spending their summers outside of the classroom, participants at Camp Invention on the campus of Indiana State University were learning lessons in creativity. They also ended up having quite a bit of fun.

The two-week day camp featured two different programs: Discover and Imagine. Each program is designed to enable children to learn in a hands-on environment based on inquiry. Discover was held July 21-25, while Imagination ended on Aug. 1. Camp Invention is a national, nonprofit enrichment program.

From a Viking Treasure Trek that challenged the students to navigate with compasses to a module that allowed them to take apart old VCRs and use the parts for new inventions, activities focused on creativity, teamwork and problem solving.

"It's taking a theme and then engaging the kids on that concept," said Tim Moss, a teacher at Dixie Bee Elementary School. Moss serves as co-director for the camp, along with Pat Wheeler, an elementary education professor at Indiana State.

Recycling was a major theme of this year's activities. Students were asked to start collecting recyclable materials before arriving at camp. Styrofoam food containers and drinking straws were used to create Viking ships, while plastic bags were converted into parachutes for superheroes.

The students were also given tours of the Indiana State Recycle Center where they learned how to reduce waste and help the environment.

"That's one of the beauties of this camp -- that it values recyclable materials," Wheeler said.

Campers studied famous inventors and were then encouraged to come up with their own ideas. For some of the youngsters, inspiration was sparked by necessity.

One camper wanted to invent a refrigerator with a door that would turn invisible only when someone stood in front of it. The reason? So parents wouldn't have to yell at children for holding the door open while searching for a snack.

Another camper wanted to create walls that also were telephones so she could walk around her house and carry on a conversation at the same time. Still another came up with an idea for a special helmet he could wear while watching movies to drown out the voice of his younger brother.

In a module called "I Can Invent," campers created their own inventions using recycled materials including parts from used electronics.

"It's a kid's dream," Moss said. "They love that class."

Sixth grade campers created Rube Goldberg machines. The machines are designed to solve a simple problem, like peeling an apple, through complex and creative steps.

The Invention week of the camp allowed students to develop their own city featuring clean landfills and environmentally-friendly vehicles. They also created animal totem poles and sculptures for an Art Park.

Teamwork was a key component of the camp.

"The students have to realize that their idea may not be accepted by the team," Morris said, adding that campers were encouraged to find solutions that benefited everyone in the group. "It really engages the kids."

The Discover portion of the camp was a pilot program this year. Indiana State was selected as one of eight sites around from around the country to test a new curriculum.

Cathy Kittinger, a representative from Camp Invention's regional office in Akron, Ohio, said Indiana State was chosen for the pilot program based on demographics and the successes of previous years. Camp Invention is held at sites around the nation, mainly elementary schools.

"We'd heard fabulous things about this camp," Kittinger said, adding that the location at Indiana State made it ideal for testing out the new curriculum. "A university setting puts completely different parameters on it."

Kittinger and other members of the evaluation team spent July 21-25 at Indiana State, assessing what worked and what didn't with the new material. That information, along with data gathered from other pilot sites, will be used to make changes to the curriculum before it is implemented nationally next summer.

"We're watching to see what the kids do, what the teachers do, how it flows together," Kittinger said.

The camp was staffed by four teachers from the Vigo County School Corporation and one Indiana State professor, as well as counselors, junior counselors and volunteers. The first week had 86 participants, while 105 took part in the second.

This is the fourth year Camp Invention has been hosted at Indiana State. Campers often come back each year and some have gone on to become junior counselors. Many staffers have been working at the camp since it first came to the university.

"We have several staff members that are really dedicated to the program," Wheeler said.

Heather Emery graduated from Indiana State with a teaching degree in May of 2008 and served as counselor at the camp as an undergraduate. She was back again this summer and looks forward to using the skills she gained working at Camp Invention as she begins her professional teaching career.

"It's given me a lot of leadership opportunities. I love it. That's why I keep coming back," Emery said.

As she glanced over at a group of energetic students who were inventing new games for a class called Recess Remix, she smiled and added, "I think I love it just as much as the kids do."


Contact: Dr. Pat Wheeler, professor of elementary education, Indiana State University, 812-237-2851 or

Writer: Emily Taylor, assistant director of media relations, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or

Photo and Cutline: Orion Gallagher, a Camp Invention participant, focuses on disassembling electronic components that he will use to create something new.

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Story Highlights

Young inventors put their creativity to the test during a unique summer program on the campus of Indiana State University.

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