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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Herald & Review.

MOUNT ZION β€” Kids at Camp Invention at Mount Zion Intermediate School will go home on Friday with a new pet.

Don't worry, parents. This one won't make messes or chew up the woodwork.

Turning one on, camp teacher Stephanie Marshall set it on the floor and its eyes lit up while its tail wagged and it barked.

β€œI love Camp Invention because it's hands-on,” said Marshall, a sixth-grade teacher at Mount Zion during the school year. β€œThe kids get to build, they get to explore, there's no testing, no grading and it's a lot of work, but it's a lot of fun. That's why I like it.”

Camp InventionΒ is a national organization sponsored by the National Inventors Hall of Fame, said camp director Billy Rockey. This is Mount Zion's seventh year hosting the camp and it always sells out, he said, with kids coming back year after year. Activities are different every year, but always include an β€œupcycle” room, with old cereal boxes, plastic bottles, and other such materials that kids can use to build and invent whatever they want. They rotate between stations every hour or so, and the day includes water games outside, so they bring a change of clothes, too.

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Avery Sommer, 9, searches for items in the upcycle room while wearing a robot dog kennel invention that she created during Camp Invention at Mount Zion Intermediate School Tuesday. Online gallery at

The campers β€” 115 this year β€” are in grades kindergarten through sixth. One of the activities they're doing is performing a urinalysis on three dogs.

β€œWe have their test tubes for their urine samples (not real urine),” Marshall said. β€œThe students have to go through and they have vet record handout, which tells what the normal dog temperature is, the symptoms that dog has, and it tells the temperature of the (sick) dog, and they have to determine if it's normal, if it has a fever or if it's hypothermic. They have to do a visual of the color of urine, the quantity, and is it cloudy or clear? Then we're doing pH tests and glucose strips.”

The robot dogs have been subjected to being taken apart to see how they work, and reassembled by the kids, who have adoption certificates and have named their dogs. They're putting β€œfur” on them and will make collars for them before they take them home.

With such a packed agenda, there's plenty to appeal to all preferences and personalities.

Water games are a favorite of Bree Shumaker, who will be in third grade in the fall. She said she doesn't remember a lot of details from last year's camp, which she also attended, but she remembers that.

Fifth-grader Landon Swartz likes to invent things.

β€œMy friend is coming up with an idea,” said Landon, β€œand then I'll draw what we want it to look like. Then we can go into the upcycle room to get stuff to make it.”

The kids never do the same thing twice, Rockey said.

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Sam Wise,10, left, and Jackson Bilyeu,9, experiment with optibots (self-driving robots) during Camp Invention at Mount Zion Intermediate School Tuesday. Online gallery at

β€œOur kids love it. Our families love it. It's a neat camp and it really fits in with the whole STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiatives that we're doing (in the district), but it's a lot of fun, too," he said. "It kind of gives kids a different kind of camp, as opposed to a sports camp or an outdoor camp. It exercises their brains in the summer time, which is great, but it does it in a way that the kids really get into it.”

The district pays a fee to Camp Invention, who provides direction and modules, and Mount Zion teachers and older kids act as counselors.

β€œWe have used the same teachers every year,” Rockey said. β€œIf we do put out there that we're looking for a teacher, we get a lot of people who want to do it.”

Most of the counselors are former campers, like 15-year-old Emily Van Dyke. She also wants to be a teacher someday. Working with the kids at the camp provides her some experience, and is helping her narrow down her options for what kind of a teacher she wants to be, she said. She attended as a camper for several years.

β€œI really like the fact that we could turn items that were unused into something new, and they could actually work and move,” Emily said. β€œThat really piqued my interest, because we could use engineering and science together to make new objects.”

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter


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