Camp Innovate puts a creative spin on familiar classes

By Josh Raymer

As the newest summer camp offered by The Center for Gifted Studies, Camp Innovate is appropriately focused on everything “new” – innovations, perspectives, ideas, discoveries, insights, and more. The fourth and fifth graders who attend the weeklong camp will explore art, science, math, and language arts in ways they likely never have before. By week’s end, students will hopefully leave Western Kentucky University’s campus and look at the world around them in a different way.

That was the motivating factor for art teacher Andee Rudloff. “How can we take something we’ve always done and turn it into something else?” she asked. “I’m taking what I’ve done before, objects I’ve used before, and twisting it. The next time students see those objects, they’ll have a new way of putting it all together.”

Each day in art starts with a warm-up exercise before moving to a larger focus for the hour-long class period. Monday was about creating opposites and on Tuesday students will examine perspective by building viewfinders. Class work culminates in a collaborative project that each student can take home. “By the end of the week, I’m hoping for a real transformation from trying to do something that looks like something, to having their own sense of voice,” Andee said of the campers.

While designing her lesson plans for Camp Innovate, Denise Ziegler kept going back to the idea of exploration and eventually decided on a space science theme for her science class. “Some of our best inventions came from space travel,” she explained. “That became my forefront. We’re going from ‘is there life out there’ to, if there is, deciding what technology and innovation we’re going to use to get there.”

Students began class Monday by exploring the question of other life in the universe. Tuesday they’ll bring things closer to home by extracting DNA from strawberries. The class blasts into orbit with an examination of constellations on Wednesday and continues full speed ahead the final two days by looking at space travel and rockets.

Sadie (left) and Loren listen to art teacher Andee Rudloff as she shows another student's artwork to the class on the first day of Camp Innovate Monday, June 29. (Photo by Sam Oldenburg)
Sadie (left) and Loren listen to art teacher Andee Rudloff as she shows another student’s artwork to the class on the first day of Camp Innovate Monday, June 29. (Photo by Sam Oldenburg)

Math is present in every facet of STEAM – science, technology, engineering, art, and math – and that was the central focus for Allison Bemiss as she designed her class: “I wanted to explore STEAM through math,” she said. “Oftentimes when you search for STEAM lesson plans online, what you find is science or engineering focused. What I wanted to do was see what math looked in art, technology, or science, and use math as the exploration lens to work through those other areas.”

Campers learned about being themselves – an important lesson for innovators – on Monday by examining the life and works of Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, the first abstract artist. After expanding their vocabulary to include mathematical concepts like obtuse angles, parallel lines, and isosceles triangles, students created a finger painting that could be used to teach one of these new ideas to someone else. The rest of the week will see campers dive into other areas of STEAM by measuring the size of bubbles, collecting data on cars and boats they make, designing objects to be 3D printed, and analyzing the Fibonacci sequence and algebraic thinking.

Jan Lanham also took a unique approach with her language arts class, opting to focus on resources that would be biographical or pragmatic for problem solving. Campers will investigate young people who have made a difference with the goal of discovering the characteristics of innovators and the process of innovation. This newfound knowledge will prepare them to identify a problem they’re passionate about, formulate a solution, and develop a plan to implement that solution.

As Jan explains, the first step in that process is to narrow the scope of the problems campers want to tackle. “They’re very big, very global,” she revealed, citing problems like global warming and deforestation as examples of issues students brainstormed during class on Monday. “I want to help them narrow it down so it’s more manageable. They want to save the world. They can but they need to start closer in terms of who their audience is and how they go about that.”

Through daily journaling and the continuous study of young innovators, Jan thinks her campers will uncover a problem that hits close to home. She also intends to provide the young students with some context for the issues they’re studying, a crucial but sometimes difficult step when something has always been a certain way during the entirety of her students’ lifetimes. With a broader frame of reference and a narrowed focus, the various problem-solving plans can begin to take shape. “Hopefully by the end of the week they’ve got the beginnings of a plan so they feel empowered to solve a problem they feel passionate about,” Jan concluded.

By utilizing creative approaches to familiar classes, Camp Innovate will challenge students to approach learning in new and exciting ways. “Camp Innovate highlights ideas in art, language arts, social studies, science, and mathematics,” said Dr. Julia Roberts, Executive Director of The Center for Gifted Studies. “Fourth and fifth graders are examining the processes leading to innovation as well as examples of innovation. Innovation creates a bright future.”