River Cities

Young inventors spend week at Curtiss Mansion

    With summer break reaching the halfway point, summer boredom for the kids might just now be starting to kick in.

    But for a group of 76 lucky youngsters, most from the Miami Springs area, last week was anything but boring.

    That’s because Curtiss Mansion was a very busy and active place for five days as it served as the host site for Camp Invention.

    No, this was hardly your average summer camp where everybody swims, plays sports games, etc.

    Nope, these kids were busy all week ... inventing things.

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    Created by the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Camp Invention is a national organization and the only nationally recognized summer program focused on creativity, innovation, real-world problem-solving and the spirit of invention. It partners with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the Collegiate Inventors Competition.

    While most were from the Springs area, kids (first grade through sixth, ages 6 to 11) from as far south as Kendall and as far north as Hollywood made the daily trip to participate in the camp, which ran from 9 a.m to 4 p.m. every day and included lunch.

    “This all started last October when we were contacted and the idea sounded fantastic,” said Jo Ellen Phillips, director of Curtiss Mansion Inc. (CMI). “Could you think of a better spot to host a camp like this than the home of one of the great aviators and inventors of all time in Glenn Curtiss? It was perfect.”

    But much needed to be done, including Camp Invention officials making the trip to Miami Springs to make sure the Mansion site would work.

    “They don’t just let anybody host the camp,” Phillips said. “They’re very diligent in making sure the correct venue is in place and that everything is organized and set up properly. Curtiss Mansion was an easy sell.”

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    After initial approval, the next task was to find a “camp counselor” who could take the ball and go. Olga Siddons, an administrator at Springview Elementary was contacted and immediately recommended Kelley Garcia, fifth-grade science teacher at the school.

    “I thought it was going to be a great program.The minute she (Siddons) told me about it, I fell in love with it,” Garcia said. “My light bulb went off immediately and I started thinking about all kinds of great things we could do with it. I had not actually heard about it before they approached me but I looked it up and discovered they had so many camps around the country and discovered what a great program it really is.”

    With the wheels in motion, Camp Invention regional representatives met with Garcia to go over the curriculum and things they were looking for.

    “It’s a lot, but they kind of really walk you through the whole process,” Garcia said. “They have a Director’s Guide and they have a list of dates where you have to finish things by that particular date. By December we ordered flyers with promotional discounts, hired a camp parent and started dropping flyers off around the schools to really market the camp. They really do make it very easy. They send you all the materials and if you need extra materials, you have it the next day.”

    According to Garcia, the five-day week is broken down into different modules with the kids performing different tasks on different days.

    “Each module focuses on something different,” said Garcia. “It’s a matter of splitting all the kids into groups according to age. In each module they do something different. One is called amplified where they work on things with the five senses, created bionic eyes, sound catchers, etc.”

    Then there is “Super-Go.”

    That involves cars where the kids actually build their own motorized car and decorate them and race them at the end of the week. Another one is pinbug. where the kids take a broken clock or DVD player, take it apart and with all those pieces create a pinball machine.

    Another one is Design Studio or “Morphed.”

    “They grab a bunch of recyclables and create something and just present it,” said Garcia. “It might look like nothing but then when you hear them talk about it, they give their ideas and it’s pretty amazing.”

    The grand finale of the week came on Friday afternoon for the “Inventors Showcase” when all the parents show up and the kids then put all of their week’s work and inventions up on display to “show off their talents.”

    “The week has gone great,” said Garcia. “The first day was a little chaotic because everybody was bringing in their take-apart items but once everybody got the hang of it, we settled into a nice routine.”

    Garcia didn’t do it by herself, of course. She wound up getting four instructors and four leadership interns, high school or college students who came and helped out. Each was assigned to a group and were the designated “group leaders” during the week.

    “The hardest part was getting all the groups together and making sure that, if a parent wants a child in another group you make those changes,” said Garcia. “But everything worked out great and, most importantly it was obvious that the kids really had a great time and enjoyed themselves.”

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