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Embracing Phenomena at Camp Invention

From bolts of lightning that illuminate the sky during a thunderstorm, to the intricate webs spiders spin to catch their prey, natural phenomena are everywhere. In recent years, educators across the country have increasingly realized the importance of incorporating the exploration of phenomena into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.

This is a welcome development, as phenomena are central to both science and engineering. While general knowledge of these subjects is important, proponents of this shift argue that phenomena bolster child agency by motivating them to explore the world around them.

A document published by Next Generation Science Standards promoting this approach agrees and explains that educators who incorporate phenomena in their classes help their students transition from the passive to active learning.

By centering science education on phenomena that students are motivated to explain, the focus of learning shifts from learning about a topic to figuring out why or how something happens. For example, instead of simply learning about the topics of photosynthesis and mitosis, students are engaged in building evidence-based explanatory ideas that help them figure out how a tree grows.

At the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), our education team has long believed in the ability of phenomena science to create a sense of wonder within children of all ages. Because of this, our Camp Invention® curriculum includes memorable phenomena that spark campers’ curiosity.

Read below to learn how the activities in this year’s Camp Invention program, Recharge, embrace phenomena science.


Experimenting with Physics in Duck Chuck

In this activity, children build devices to launch rubber ducks and then modify them to experiment with how different properties affect the trajectory and velocity of their duck. By observing how a bouncy ball might have a different trajectory than a water balloon, campers investigate the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object.


Finding Inspiration in Nature with SolarBot

As campers explore cricket anatomy, they discover some amazing facts related to the insect’s exoskeleton, legs, antennae and wings. After observing how crickets make noise by rubbing their wings together, children problem solve and design inventions by mimicking how plants or animals survive, grow and meet their needs.


Exploring Energy in Road Rally

This activity gives children the opportunity to explore how the green sea slug takes genes from the algae it eats and incorporates them into its own DNA, allowing it to make its own chlorophyll. They are encouraged to further investigate the slimy sea slug and explore photosynthesis. Following their curiosity about how green sea slugs produce energy, children work to discover how other plants and animals support their survival, growth, behavior and reproduction.


Investigating Sound with Open Mic

In this activity, children investigate the inside of a microphone and discover how a speaker converts electricity into sound. Campers are encouraged to learn more about how vibrations are a naturally occurring force in nature, and how vibrating objects produce sound waves. Throughout the week, participants plan and conduct investigations to find evidence of this phenomenon inside their very own golden microphones.


Phenomena science does not need to serve as a flashy hook. It can involve everyday occurrences that invite us to take a closer look. It also does not need to be a hands-on activity that comes after the presentation of the content — the content can be anchored within the investigation. In addition, while we value questions, the exploration does not necessarily need to stem from an initial question. The observation of the phenomenon can be the starting point from which the questions are generated that will then drive the learning. — Jayme Cellitioci, Creativity and Innovation Strategist at NIHF


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