Brennan Fisher, a third-grader at Auke Bay Elementary School, describes the mansion he built during Camp Invention this past week at Thunder Mountain High School. (Gregory Philson | Juneau Empire)

Brennan Fisher, a third-grader at Auke Bay Elementary School, describes the mansion he built during Camp Invention this past week at Thunder Mountain High School. (Gregory Philson | Juneau Empire)

‘It starts with them:’ Camp Invention gives kids opportunity to build on their own ideas

Trey Gallagher, a sixth-grader at Juneau Adventist Christian School, built a mansion complete with several computers and televisions.

Now that mansion was built with cardboard and tape, but Gallagher did construct it as part of Camp Invention at Thunder Mountain High School. Camp Invention is a weeklong summer program that gives kids in kindergarten through sixth grade an opportunity to take on hands-on challenges that encourage problem-solving, teamwork, entrepreneurship and innovation. Thunder Mountain hosted the camp from June 4-8. Gallagher was especially excited about building his mansion and building a robot.

“I really liked how I got shape the mansion,” Gallagher, 11 said. “I also got build a robot that I designed after a ‘Star Wars’ fighter.”

Camp Invention Director and TMHS high school teacher Adriana Northcutt said the program is a good way to keep kids excited about learning. The program mostly focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and how it applies to the real world.

“It is super-fun to see the kids who may have looked overwhelmed at the beginning of the week to come back at the end of the week and say they thought about what they were working on and they have an idea for it,” Northcutt said.

There were four different modules the kids participated in. There was the mini-mansion building, which involved learning about LED lighting and construction. There was a module that focused on different ways to accomplish goals. An example Northcutt used was a sticky arm that the kids had to attempt to grab things with at various levels of difficulties. Another module gave the kids an opportunity to build a robot that moved based on lighting. The students learned how to manipulate the robotic vehicle based on how he reacted to lights.

Based on reactions from most of the kids at Friday’s camp, building and playing with a robotic dog was their favorite module. Many of the kids added accessories like earrings or outfits to their dogs. The dogs would walk, bark and got sick. The students also learned about the work veterinarians do. The students would take apart the dog and compare its inner mechanics to the anatomy of a real dog. They would also work with simple circuits so the dog could walk and light up. Bradana Gillman, a fourth-grader at Auke Bay Elementary School, said her dog, “Bunny,” was fun to learn from and build. The program, Gillman said, also shined a different light on going to school in the summer.

“When it is summer break, you want to be out of school and having fun,” Gillman, 10, said. “This makes school fun.”

The program also offers older students the chance to help teach as camp interns for high school students or counselors in training for those in between the program and high school.

Aubrie Engen, an eighth-grader at Montessori Borealis Public Alternative School, was a counselor in training over the week and said she had fun helping the younger students learn about the various projects.

“It has been really great helping out all the kids and seeing how the kids have been making stuff,” Engen 13, said. “The kids are all really creative.”

She said she also learned a lesson, as well.

“I have learned that it is OK building outside the box and being creative,” she said.

Ultimately, Northcutt said the program has allowed the students to really see what it takes to start from scratch with a concept and see it come to fruition.

“The program gives them the understanding that the things they use every day all started with an idea that was developed into what we actually use,” Northcutt said. “It starts with a simple idea that they can make something great out of it. It starts with them.”

• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.

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