MANKATO — The lights were off, and the glow from computer monitors illuminated the faces of children gathered around teacher Angie Sheldrup.
Sheldrup had wrapped a dark plastic bag around one of the monitors and was asking for help from the kids to poke holes until they could see light peeking through. Initial attempts with a thumb tack didn't quite do the trick.
“Scientists sometimes have ideas that don't work,” Sheldrup said. “That doesn't mean they should stop.”
Tearing a hole through the plastic with fingers did the trick, and bright light poured through.
“If this is the night sky, and we see light, then what are we seeing?” she prompted.
The students suddenly understood the lesson: “Stars!” “It's the moon!” “Get down, it's a meteor!”
In Sheldrup's classroom this week, students will be discovering “everything around us,” she said, from the wind to the stars. And hers is just one component to Camp Invention Geo-Quest, put on by Mankato Community Education and Recreation and held at East High School through Friday.
The science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) enrichment camp is an annual hands-on program that brings the national Camp Invention program to Mankato. Designed for elementary and middle-school students, sessions change every year and students work together to come up with innovative solutions to real-world problems.
Camp director Laura Linde said examples of problems include a lack of housing space in Singapore, or trash washing up on the shores of Honduras. Coupled with lessons on geography (how to use a compass and about longitude and latitude, for example) and technology, among other things, the students come up with answers by the end of the week and share their inventions.
Experiments help bring the lessons to life. When learning about heat in the Sahara Desert, students heat a container with a hairdryer and measure the temperature inside. Then they insulate the container, heat it again and retake the temperature, and they compare the results, Linde said.
In the “take-apart room” for the I Can Invent: Launchitude session, students bring old appliances, including VCRs, keyboards and fans, to tear apart and rebuild as something new and functional. Monday students were working on catapults, or “Duck Chucking Devices,” to launch rubber duckies under the tutelage of Steve Sheldrup.
Linde said the creative aspect to the camp adds a touch of the arts to the program.
“So it's gone from STEM to STEAM,” Linde said. “It's the sizzle that sells the steak.”
Among the camp components, in the Cache Dash session children navigate their way to treasure-filled caches and solve global challenges from youth around the world.
Tools are invented to reveal hidden messages while exploring the “Earthy realms of sky, sea, land and underground” in the Ecoverse session.
More than 50 students are participating in the camp this week.