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Way Cooler than Summer School

By From the Lowell Sun

By Shawn Myrick

LOWELL -- Rock music blared from a computer as students built speakers.

Downstairs, children practiced designing their own mechanical animals and studied forensics.

These are a few of the scientific and innovative activities available at Design Camp 2008 at UMass Lowell this week. The camp started Monday and continues through Aug. 1.

"You would be amazed what these kids can do," said Camp Director Doug Prime. "These are fifth- and sixth-grade kids who are just learning basic circuits."

While teaching Lego robotics at a Lexington vocational school, Prime started the camp in 2000 with only one class.

"I thought that was OK, but we can do something more," said Prime. "Now this year we are up to 550 kids, and we have 16 different workshops."

The camp is split into four sessions and campers range in age from fifth grade to high-school juniors.

Despite its growth, the camp still strives to meet its original goal of helping kids explore creativity.

This semester's classes include Electric Jungle in which kids build mechanical jungle animals; Crime Science, a seminar that teaches the ins and outs of forensics; and Electrical & Mechanical Gizmos.

Julia Prime, Doug Prime's daughter, and her friend, Blaire Tiernan, both 10-year-olds from Westminster, are starting their first summer at Design Camp in the Electric Jungle.

"This is our first project," said Julia, pointing to a chain of electric wires.

"We are making this, then switches," added Blaire.

Both girls said they are excited about building mechanical creatures later in the session.

"It stuck out," added Julia about camp. "It's more fun and stuff."

The creativity of the students amazes the instructors.

"I just can't believe these kids," said instructor Shawn Kenner, 46, of Franklin. "These real youngsters wire up their own fanciful creatures that they might see in a jungle."

Kenner emphasized that all types of children, even those not experienced in electronics, are accepted.
"Not every child is confident, but that has not stopped us," said Kenner. "We do not tell them the answer, but give them enough information to get their curiosity going."

Eleven-year-old Jake Vieira of Wilmington and Liam McKenna, 11, of Lowell, said they enjoy the camp's open learning policy.

The boys were able to build a forward-reverse switch for a motor. Jake tried to invent his own, but faced limitations.

"I had a few things that were enough to make the light bulb light," said Jake. "But when I started more advanced stuff I didn't have the right materials."

The boys are excited to begin inventing.

"It's really fun here," said Liam. "I like working with electronics."

"I want to make an electronic animal, like a parrot or something," added Jake.

Doug shares the campers excitement over inventing.

"I love it!" exclaimed Doug. "They are so turned on and so enthusiastic about learning stuff. We have teachers that say 'This is why I went into teaching.'"

The director assures kids that "educational" does not mean boring.

"I know a lot of kids who come here and think it would be something like school," describes Doug. "This is nothing like school. It is way cool."