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Solving problems: Innovation Station gives youths chance to create devices to fix things

July 30th, 2011 11:29 pm by Rex Barber

Gwen Kirschke had a problem with keeping her glasses clear in the rain.
So she devised a solution for that this week at East Tennessee State University’s Innovation Station summer camp for 6-12 year-olds.
Kirschke made a wiper for eyeglasses. She used a small wind-up engine from a building set, attached a piece of cardboard wrapped in a soft fur-like cloth and used that to wipe away the rain. Of course, it was only a prototype, but the concept seemed to function quite well.
Patricia Williams, coordinator of the children’s enrichment programs in ETSU’s office of professional development was leading the camp, which is part of the Renaissance Child Program. The idea behind the camp and others hosted by Williams’ office is to make sure the 21st century child is well rounded in the arts, technology and science.
The camp this week was Innovation Station, which begins by teaching about Leonardo DaVinci and how he was an artist, engineer and inventor.
“Then we’ve allowed the children to come up with their own inventions for a problem that maybe they have,” Williams said. “It’s kind of organized chaos.”
The 25 children in the camp chose from all kinds of materials saved up by Williams. From hoses to foam to tape to paint to wires to a keyboard, it was all used to create an invention for making life a little easier, or maybe just more fun, as one camper busily constructed a catapult using rubber bands.
One girl made a cleaning robot. Another made a robot designed to chase her sister.
Madeleine Hucker constructed a solar-powered room from a cardboard box, a keyboard, a microchip and Christmas lights.
“My favorite part of it is the keyboard, because you get to type on it,” Hucker said after giving a detailed rundown of how her project came to fruition.
“It’s amazing what they have come up with to solve the problems of their young lives,” Williams said.
This was the eighth camp Williams and her co-workers have hosted this summer at ETSU. Themes for the camps included science, art, drama, computers and forensics. During the school year there are camps, too.
“Every time Johnson City schools are out we have a week camp,” Williams said.
Scheduled camps throughout the school year include a fall break camp, a spring break camp and a camp around Christmas break.
The camps this summer have been extremely popular, Williams said.
“It’s the biggest summer we’ve had,” Williams said. “We’ve had approximately 25 children per week through the month of July. In other years ... we’ve had about 15, maybe 20 but we cap it at 25, so we’ve had a full house.”
Angela Bayard, also a coordinator in the office of professional development, said the camps every summer are a success because of the counselors hired to help.
“Our counselors are amazing, truly,” Bayard said. “We really look for counselors, usually college student-age, older college students usually that have some experience with kids, have some creative side or some engineering side.”

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