Mary Russell and her classmates have learned a thing or two this summer about the innards of the electronics they use every day.
Before she broke apart a computer keyboard, Mary, 9, thought she’d find hard drives inside. Now the Charlton Heights Elementary School fifth-grader knows there’s only one tiny chip translating all that tapping into words on the screen.
And Hayden Rusnica, 8, was equally amazed by the guts of a radio he brought in.
“It seemed like there were millions of circuit boards and a lot of wires,” he said.
The students are part of a weeklong Camp Invention at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake schools, where they’re learning about science in a fun, hands-on way.
They’re using those old electronics and other trash to make some of their inventions, which range throughout the week from model spaceships to water filters to Rube Goldberg contraptions.
Elementary-schoolers have been attending Camp Invention camps around the country since 1990, but this is the first year for Burnt Hills. Other local school districts have taken part in the last several years, and Albany/Shaker, Shenendehowa, Scotia-Glenville and Saratoga Springs schools each took a different week this summer in addition to Burnt Hills.
Students can attend just one week or can do more, since each week features a unique curriculum. The theme for this week at BH-BL is “create.” Students attending this week total 47, most from Burnt Hills schools but some from Niskayuna and surrounding towns and from parochial schools as well.
The cost to parents is $215 a week per student, though there are discounts for multiple students from the same family.
Marie DiCristofaro, a science and math teacher at O’Rourke Middle School in the Burnt Hills district, was excited about directing the camp at her school for the first time, after she found out about it from friends who teach it at other local districts.
The camp is a real-world, hands-on program that’s a diversion from the test-oriented teaching she does the rest of the year.
“This is a perfect type of program,” she said. “This is, to me, the way teaching should be.” Her fellow teachers Traci Hall, Chris Deso and Katie Zyskowski are teaching the camp.
Students rotate throughout the day into three activities: an environmental initiative called “Saving Sludge City”; making a Rube Goldberg machine to pop a water balloon; and trying to get home from an alien planet.
The students were enthusiastic about taping their Rube Goldberg machines up on the wall with duct tape and mapping out how they’ll work.
Hayden described the machines as “almost like dominoes, but with a lot of different things.”
The younger kids weren’t the only ones excited.
Some older students from Scotia-Glenville High School who worked hard as leadership interns during their school’s camp are volunteering at Burnt Hills this week as well, saving up community service hours for various clubs they belong to.
“Overall, at the end of the day you know you did a good thing,” said Mikaela Potter, 16, a rising senior.