Summer day camp. The phrase conjures images of activities like tie-dying, archery, canoeing and singalongs. For South Shore YMCA campers in Quincy, Massachusetts, another activity was added to their list of day camp fun: inventing.
Last summer, the gym at Eastern Nazarene College transformed into a bustling creativity mecca as campers glued, folded, cut and designed at the state’s first Thingamajig Invention Convention. More than 300 campers from all four branches of the South Shore YMCA had the chance to explore and engage in STEM-based activities alongside scientists from the local community.
Campers chose between a number of engineering challenges to explore – like building a state-of-the-art paper airplane or using recycled materials to invent an apparatus that helps turtles cross the road more safely and quickly.
“Unless they’re in a specialty science camp, kids don’t often get to experience and see how fun STEM can be,” says Chris Jacobs, event organizer and executive director of the South Shore Natural Science Center. “The idea is to encourage kids to problem solve, think outside of the box, be inventors and innovators and meet face-to-face with scientists to learn.”
In addition to helping to ensure the STEM skills students gained throughout the course of the school year weren’t lost over the summer, the convention offered the kids the opportunity to experience the crucial role teamwork plays in a science and engineering setting. TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) “sporting” events gave kids the understanding that, as a team, you can accomplish so much more. Kids learned how to collaborate, problem solve and compromise.
3M donated materials like tape, scissors, glue and recyclables for the campers’ inventions. And volunteers from different scientific backgrounds – including three staff members from the local 3M manufacturing facility in Rockland – led the activities and helped judge.
Cassie Saitow is a biology instructor at Simmons College and was one of the invention judges.
“I was so impressed with the kids and the amount of careful thought they put into their inventions,” says Cassie. “Hands-on learning like this is so important because it's fun and it’s also low pressure. It doesn't matter if you know all the answers going into an experiment. It's totally okay to make mistakes and then improve on them – mistakes are not viewed as a negative as they often are in other settings.”
Thingamajig Invention Conventions – which began 22 years ago at the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington – are now spreading to YMCAs across the country. This past summer’s attendance numbers from the Quincy event are likely a good indicator of how the STEM-focused event will do in other communities.