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FARRAGUT (WATE) - Science and engineering are the building blocks of a Farragut summer camp. The week-long Sciensational Camp attracts kids from all over the region.
The students, ages seven to 12, learn to build and operate vehicles of all kinds to prevent summer brain drain.
"We have been building with the Engenio building blocks," said instructor Jenna Harness, adding that the students found it more challenging than they first expected.
"They walked in thinking this is like Legos. I've got tons of Legos at home, I know how to do this. Then they quickly figured out, maybe I don't," Harness laughed.
Rising fifth grader Ben Darden said, "It's harder to put together. It's harder to take apart."
10-year-old Michael Davis added as he demonstrated, "The things, you have to snap them, either push them in, or kind of snap them in like that. It's harder than Legos, but you can do different things."
There are a dozen kids enrolled in this year's summer camp, 11 boys and one girl. The students first learned to build with the blocks, then began working in teams and creating all sorts of cool things.
"We've built carriages, defense vehicles, a chopper, tricycles, swings, little houses," said rising fifth grader Kevin Wang.
"Today we built our own race cars and had a race with our partners," Harness added.
Seven-year-old Grace Garren is the only girl in the course, but she says she's hanging in just as well as the boys. "I think it's pretty cool. We were building something with red and yellow, and then blue and black."
Ben Darden and his partner, Austin Bloyd, showed us their vehicle. "This is Scorpon," Darden said. "It's a combination of a falcon and a scorpion. It has a scorpion tail that will flip out on impact."
Bloyd added, "Yeah, but we put two motors on it for the back shield. It wouldn't go very far so we took the motors off."
The two 10-year-olds say they hope to use what they're learning in camp and school in future careers. "I want to be an engineer," Darden said. "I want to be a mad scientist," Bloyd said.
Rising second grader Evan Johnson could barely contain his enthusiasm as he told us he's loving the summer camp. "I'm using my brain, like having to know what it looks like and build what it looks like, and see if it's the right direction on there, what would fit right or something," the seven year old explained.
They raced their inventions, made modifications and headed back to the starting line over, and over again. "I got in second place," Johnson said. "The West Valley Middle School guy beat me," he laughed.
Darden and Bloyd worked out ways to make their Scorpon faster. "At first we had a really big, and tall vehicle, but we realized it wouldn't be so sturdy," Darden explained. "So we cut it down a couple of stories and made it like really short and long."
Their instructor was stunned at how much the students have accomplished in just an hour a day. "Over the past couple of days, I've seen them just grow. With their partners they're learning team work and problem solving," Harness said.
As we spoke with her, two boys sat on the floor with a pan of blocks between them. One asked the other, "What if we put a blue one here?" Across the room an elementary-aged boy was asking a boy from middle school, "How do you build stuff to where you wheel won't fall off?"
Kevin Wang is only 10, but says he's known what he wants to do when he grows up for years. "Oh, I wanted to take this class since I really love engineering and Legos," he said. "And when I grow up, I want to be an inventor."
The day before the summer camp was set to wrap up, the students lingered after class to talk about how exciting the next day would be. "It makes a difference when they actually want to be here, and it's something that they like to do," Harness said. "Yeah, they're very smart kids."
The final project is robot building. "I had a robotics class at St. John Newman, so I'll have the upper hand at that," nine-year-old Joe Gray told us. Enough said!
Sciensational Workshops For Kids is the brainchild of former chemistry teacher Neil Shulman, of New Jersey. He hires local teachers across the U.S. to teach the summer courses. This is the sixth year for the camp in Farragut, and it's the only one in Tennessee this year.
The Farragut camp costs $145 per student which includes all the supplies, and the kids get to take them home. They plan to offer the camp again next year.