Camp Accelerate Sparks Imagination, Learning

Learning camps mix motion, science, writing
By: Todd Martin

If the creative energies of young inventors participating in Killeen ISD’s summer learning camps were visible, there would be quite a series of colorful clouds pouring off five campuses this month.
In fact, the creative clouds would likely blaze a trail of rainbow colors and spew forth streams of sweet-smelling bubbles and waves of frozen treats.
Hundreds of first- through fifth-graders have taken advantage of camps conducted over eight days at five elementary schools.
Camp Invention, focused on STEM topics, completed its run a week ago and Camp Accelerate extended the inventing with a focus on math and literacy this week.
Both events took place across the district at Brookhaven, Harker Heights, Timber Ridge, Iduma and Meadows elementary schools.
Camp Invention has been a fixture in the district’s summer offerings the past eight years. This year is the first the district has offered Camp Accelerate and the first year it has picked up the cost, making both camps free to participants.
At each site this week, campers began at “base camp” in the cafeteria for breakfast. Participants moved in grade-level groups through four academic modules that included PE, art and a mix of math, science and writing, as well as lunch.

Breakfast, lunch and transportation were provided.

The learning centered on a progressive design and build project that included reflection and writing. That was called Plot Coaster and combined constructing a foam roller coaster that visualized the writing process – building a plot with its rising and falling action.
Another series of learning modules, Fair Games, was built around carnival games.
Throughout each day that stretched from 8 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon, campers played together, worked in teams, planned, designed, built, tested, revised and recorded their progress.
“It’s about exploration, innovative ideas and creativity,” said Eddie Benitez, co-director of the Harker Heights Elementary site. “There is teamwork and individual learning.”
Obviously excited students showed off their creative ideas.
During a “superhero rotation” one day, students worked to design a device to pick up toxic slime.
Creative students dug into mounds of supplies, wrote out concepts and pieced together uniforms, pick-up devices and hand coverings to meet the objective.
“They are very engaged,” said Samuetta Doctor, a Cedar Valley Elementary teacher leading the toxic slime activity. “They are showing their creativity and having fun. I’m amazed at their designs.”
Cedar Valley Elementary teacher Teresa Mitchell, co-director of the Timber Ridge camp, first dived into invention camp eight years ago as a parent volunteer.
She witnessed her own son get turned on to the creative problem solving and she has continued to dedicate a chunk of the summer to the effort.
Brookhaven Elementary teacher Regina Beard has also seen the invention camp blossom over the years. Both said they were thrilled to see KISD’s continued support and desire to expand the offering from a single site for one week to two weeks at five sites.

“The last two weeks at both Camp Invention and Camp Accelerate I have seen students be creative inventors, all while having an amazing time,” Beard said. “Kids that have not had the opportunity in the past to participate were able to partake in this experience.”

At Timber Ridge Elementary, fourth-grader Aryana Green applied more color to the design of her robot.
“This camp is about inventors,” she said, explaining that the superhero module for the day was aimed at building a robot.
“We’re making our own designs,” she said, noting that the assignment was to make two designs and to choose the best.
“We do a lot at the camp, but learning is the most important,” she said. “We’re learning a lot about rollercoasters.”
Another group was hard at work taping foam sections to the wall to form a rollercoaster that would theoretically take a marble on a thrilling up-and-down journey.
To get a feel for centripetal force, students flung strung-together paper cups in circles and observed tiny corks that stayed inside the cups like people in a Ferris wheel.
Cedar Valley teacher Christina Pearson explained how piecing together paper cup Ferris wheels and foam rollercoasters made visual the process of writing a narrative while reinforcing science concepts.
“They are using hands-on exploration so they can visualize what they are writing,” she said. “When they write stories, it has a more personal feel.”
Stretching their imagination, designing and trial and error made up much of each day.
“It’s good for them to make mistakes,” said Pearson. “They learn from trial and error and see that it’s fun to take chances. It’s really good for higher-level thinking.”

“Students that I have seen throughout the year, that are usually quiet and reserved, have come out of their shell and become confident and have emerged as true leaders among their groups,” Beard said. “This experience is one our students will not forget.”