Mary R. Fisher Elementary School’s Camp Invention was such a hit with kids that it even pierced the once-impregnable “how was school?” wall of silence.

“So many parents have told us they’ve had more conversations with their kids about this program than they’ve ever had from a regular school day,” said Fisher School Principal Noveline Beltram. “I think a lot of it is that the kids are steering their own learning. They’re looking at their world and seeing what they can change and improve – even as kids.”

Fisher’s Camp Invention is the local edition of the national STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Camp Invention program sponsored by the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Every day for a week in July, 35 grade K-6 students from Thompson, Killingly, and Webster traded their usual summer routines for solving technical problems through creativity, innovation, teamwork, and good old fashioned persistence.

The Camp Invention program challenged them to design a new planet for human habitation and then build a model of it. To build a super-secure “spy box” after decoding a note written in invisible ink. To create a hot new consumer product out of duct tape. To manage a limited budget for creating their product like an adult entrepreneur.

“There’s a phrase in education called ‘purposeful play,’ but this is purposeful science,” Beltram said. “The kids use scientific principles and creativity to attack the challenges and sketch out different designs. They listened to each other, negotiated, collaborated… those 21st century skills we hear so much about. We want them to explore their designs, evaluate whether they work to reach the desired goal. If not, they have full license to re-evaluate and try again by changing the design or the materials or scrapping it and starting all over again.”

Days Full of Innovation

The students were guided by teacher/director Kristen Stokowski from Dudley Elementary School(DES) and teachers Ellen Pratt, grade 2 teacher from Mary R. Fisher, and Abysalh Brassard (Dudley), who facilitated program modules. High school students served as leadership interns so that there was a staff member for every eight children. The leadership interns will receive 40 community service hours and a special letter of recognition from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Camp Invention campers worked in teams from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. through the week to build their designs from materials donated by the National Inventors Hall of Fame. The program ended with an exhibit of all the projects for the kids’ parents.

Beltram and Pratt brought Camp Invention into Mary R. Fisher in 2015 after talking to National Inventors Hall of Fame representatives then visiting Stokowski’s Camp Invention program in Dudley. Beltram was impressed at how the Camp Invention projects sparked the Dudley students’ enthusiasm and creativity thus launching the Fisher program the following summer.

“Science and technology are alive and growing here. The kids came up with some amazing designs and showed incredible enthusiasm,” she said. “You can see it growing in them. We had one boy as a kindergartner last year, and I asked him how he’d solve the problem of the noise in our cafeteria. Without skipping a beat he said: ‘Ms. Beltram, I’d put up partitions to break up the sounds.’ He came back this year and he was head’s-down the whole time, working hard on his designs. We want them to carry that enthusiasm ahead. Hopefully it will spark their entrepreneurial talents and someday we’ll read about the amazing new product they invented.”