OTTUMWA — Summer break doesn’t mean a break from learning and exploring for students. That’s what this week’s Camp Invention is all about.

While the national program has been around 25 years, this is the third year the Ottumwa School district has partnered with the program. Activities and modules change each year, with this year’s program being “Supercharged,” said Breanna HInmon, who is overseeing the program.

“It was piloted last year with a local program in Ohio,” she said, where the Camp Invention nonprofit is headquartered. “It rolled out nationwide this year.”

The program involves four modules the 63 participants rotate through daily at Evans Middle School: Innovation Force led by retired teacher Ann Youngman, Farm Tech led by administrator David Eaton, DIY Orbot led by Evans Middle School teacher Heidi Bradford, and Deep Sea Mystery led by Ottumwa High School teacher Alair Gregory.

The camp is made up of kids in preparing for kindergarten through sixth grade, and the teachers aren’t alone in leading the students. Hinmon said there are seven leaders in training, which are students approaching grades seven through nine. “These students are building on their leadership skills and becoming experts in their modules,” Hinmon said. They are joined by eight students approaching grades 10-12. These students are called interns and help lead the campers while earning Silver Cord hours.

Hinmon said the children are split up by age level and rotate through the modules, spending about 75 minutes in each module daily. They break for lunch and participate in high-energy games in the Evans Middle School rubber gym to burn off excess energy.

“During the program, they use recyclable materials they brought from home to complete challenges throughout the day,” Hinmon said. Students travel in groups to the “shop” to pick out materials for their designs — they even have individual log books for the week.

Tuesday afternoon, the campers were busy with a variety of tasks.

The Innovation Force team was busy saving inventions from “the Plagiarizer,” said Youngman. That was, of course, after they spent Monday creating their superhero masks and capes and creating their superhero identity.

The challenge for the day, after a lesson on protecting ideas with patents and trademarks, was to use a super-strong material — duct tape — to create a prototype to retrieve and release ideas from the Plagiarizer’s lair.

Things were just as busy in the next classroom, where students in the DIY Orbot module were creating bridges and tunnels to guide their remote-controlled bots through. But that was just one of the challenges the students face this week. Bradford said other challenges include programming them to play soccer, dance and draw. The will even do some reverse engineering later in the week when they open the bots up to see what’s inside. Then, to close the week out, “We’ll take all the obstacles from the week and put them in the ‘ring of fire’ and maneuver them through,” Bradford said.

In the Farm Tech module, Eaton was leading students through a pollinator project after they had used a Bot ANN-E to seed their farms. Campers were working with the issues farmers face every day — pollution, supply and demand and some economics.

“We’ve been learning about how much money farmers have to put into their fields to get money out of their fields,” Eaton said. To back up the lesson, the campers receive “Moola” when their projects are successful.

Campers in Deep Sea Mystery, however, were busy trying to survive on a deserted island. Gregory said the story for the projects was about a group of researchers called out the the sea to inspect a “mystery fossil.” They became shipwrecked and had to learn how to use the constellations to make their way to an island.

“We’re on our island and now we need to eat, so we’re building fishing poles out of recycled materials,” she said. Students would then test their creations on plastic fish floating in an inflatable pool.

“It’s all one story,” Gregory said. “Each day we pick up right where we left off.”

And that story doesn’t change. It stays the same across all age groups. “It’s all the same story and concept; it’s just skill-level appropriate,” Gregory said. “You can’t really underestimate a kindergartner.”

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.


Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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