Summer STEM Program peaks young Platte County minds

Peyton Teten and Lexi Jones both participated in this year’s Camp Invention at West Elementrary in Wheatland. Both girls are elementary students there.

WHEATLAND – From the marble arcade to robotic aquatics, elementary students from all over Platte County came to learn science, awaken the inventor creativity within them and to generally have fun.

Camp Invention, a nationally recognized, nonprofit summer enrichment program, came to West Elementary June 27 - July 1 and this year hosted 90 students.
Camp Invention challenges children in grades K-6 through hands-on activities, promotes STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning; builds confidence, leadership, perseverance and resourcefulness; and encourages entrepreneurship — all in a fun and engaging environment.
This year's Explore program provided hands-on activities including:
Robotic Aquatics where the kids dived into cutting-edge ocean research as they adopt their own aquatic animals, design and patent aquatic plants, and take their new friend home in a mini tank.

NIHF's The Attic saw campers combine science and art to build their own robotic artist, engage in design thinking, make spin art and learn how inventions can change the way people create.

In Spacecation the kids discovered real space exploration technology when they created Spacepacks and Astro-Arm devices, mined an asteroid and observed erupting ice volcanoes.

Marble Arcade had students build their own marble tracks as they experimented with the fun of physics, engineering and gaming as they designed, built and tested their own mega marble arcades.

Cindy Amundson who has been teaching in Wheatland for over 20 years has evolved in many ways, keeping up with science and her craft.

“Up until recently I taught elementary,” Amundson said. “Then I moved up to high school and I am a life science teacher there and a biology teacher. I’ve been with Camp Invention since the beginning which means I’ve been in it for 16 years.”

It’s basically an inventors program geared to stoke the flame of interest in young and aspiring inventors who have some great ideas.

“I got involved in it because the principal who was here, Val Calvert, decided she wanted something extra, like an enrichment for kids during the summer,” Amundson said. “She knows how I feel about science, and so another teacher and I, Paula Johnson who were the first two teachers, had about 35 kids that year.”

At that point Calvert went out and created ties with the Wyoming Community Foundation. The Glyda Mae Foundation has also been a big supporter and one of the sponsors for this annual event.

“It’s kind of an expensive camp, but with the stipends that we get, we can service so many kids being as we’re a Title I school it helps all of these kids come here.”

For this year’s camp, Wyoming Community Foundation gave a $10,000 grant. It doesn’t cover all of the full tuition of the kids, but it covers $150 per student. Camp Invention pays the teacher salaries.

“We also have our middle school kids who have pretty much grown up in Camp Invention, they come to volunteer,” she said. “Our high school kids also have been to Camp Invention and they’ve come back and we go to our local sponsors like Platte Valley Bank, Rolling Hills Bank, First State Bank and another anonymous donor along with Laramie Peak Motors who always donate to our camp as well.”

A stipend is then taken from those donors and the group can give money to the high school students who are needing summer employment.

The camp ran five days from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. and will include lunch.

At the conclusion of camp there was a camp showcase for the students where they could share what they learned and show the projects that they worked on to their parents and families. As for their projects, the kids are all given a task and they have to figure out how to make it. Also each day, students are given out handouts which describe the activities done on that day.

According to Amundson, the camp was the biggest that they’ve had in their 16-year history and it was so big this year that they had to add a fifth module. Overall, the kids were excited, engaged and inspired.

“This is the way I would want to teach science,” Amundson said. “Especially when I was in elementary. If I could teach all day, this is the most fun week I have, ever. I just look forward to it.”

The teachers who work the camp are all certified teachers. Those are Julaine Wedemyer, Trista Teten, Heather Tatro, Katy Finnerty-Marquez, and Amundson.

Lexi Jones, one of the students who participated in the camp said it was fun and it was a great chance to hang out with friends who enjoy the same things.

“I learn new things every year,” Peyton Teten said. “And it’s not boring. It’s so fun.”         

Camp Invention is the only nationally recognized summer program focused on creativity, innovation, real-world problem-solving and the spirit of invention. Through hands-on programming, Camp Invention encourages children entering kindergarten through sixth grade to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics curricula inspired by some of the world's greatest inventors. Since 1990, our education programs have served more than 1.9 million children, and 210,000 teachers and Leadership Interns.

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