I was fortunate enough to be able to attend Innovation Tech Camp in Apple Valley recently and it was quite an inspiring experience! The tech camps were founded by Steve and Debbie Kurti whose goal is to inspire and encourage students to create, innovate, and dream big! Indeed, as teenagers enter a 21st-century job market, it is more important than ever to be exposed to technological skills and innovative pathways that we can use in the future, and technology definitely is the future!
Innovation Tech Camp is a 4-day fully-immersive learning experience for teenagers from ages 12 to 18 years old. I had never heard of the Camp before but all the winners of the District Science Fair received an invitation to attend and so I was lucky enough to be able to go. However, any interested student can attend and my brother, a Boy Scout who wants to be a software developer, went too. As a Girl Scout, I have been able to participate in several STEM events and the fantastic GenCyber Camp, so this was not the first time I had worked with drones and other forms of today’s most innovative technology. However, at the Innovation Tech Camp, we were able and encouraged to build custom inventions in the midst of fun and creative challenges alongside students with similar achievements and interests.
On Day One, we were introduced to Dr. and Mrs. Kurti whose extensive knowledge and passion to teach and guide students were obvious from the beginning. We saw a short film on the latest innovations in our world, including short clips from movies and shows such as the original Star Trek series from the 60’s and 70’s. Of course, such “futuristic” gadgets from the 70’s series, such as cell phones, are now commonplace. Dr. Steve Kurti, who has a Ph.D. in Physics, also mentioned something to us that really struck me. He discussed how human beings are the most innovative and inventive during their teenage years. Indeed, extensive studies and research, through MRI scanners and neurological studies of synapses and the prefrontal cortex, have shown that we are the most innovative in our lives between the ages of 12 and 22. Of course, teenagers are known to be more reckless and adventurous in their risk-taking than younger children and older adults, but teens are also the most creative beings in our world; Unfortunately, today’s schools and conventional curriculums do not necessarily encourage that unbounded energy and imagination. That is why it is important for teenagers and pre-teens to have access to sources, such as the Innovation Camp and the Innovation Academy, that will support and inspire their technological drives and creative spirits.
Dr. and Mrs. Kurti and their excellent young staff of helpers ran the camp very efficiently and effectively. The Innovation Camp was from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. We took a morning and afternoon snack break, as well as a lunch break. The students were asked to bring “something non-electronic” for the breaks so that we could rest our minds from the intensity of our projects. I enjoyed just taking a walk around the District building “campus” (which was old and interesting) but everyone else had fun playing frisbee and basketball, etc.
On our first day, we were introduced to all the different latest educational and high tech gadgets. We learned about 3D printers and did an exercise on computer programming and 3D design. We also worked a little with drones and robotics and acquired some preliminary skills. Whereas Day One was more about “exploration”, Day Two was a much more intense day of “evaluation”. Everyone was placed into teams and given a challenge, such as building a microprocessor, creating a mini cellular tower or operating drones and programming them to fly up and to various locations. My partner and I were excited to see our drone finally fly in the designated netted area and after several tries, into one of the hanging hoops. The area seemed to me to be a lot like a challenging obstacle course for drones and their focused operators. It took several tries and a few hours but our drone was finally able to fly through most, if not all, of the hoops and land smoothly without incurring any structural damage or mishap. The other students were successful as well and everyone was very encouraging and cheering one another on! As one of the boys said, “The best thing about Camp was watching my drone fly straight through the hoop! That was awesome!”
Day Three and Four at Innovation Camp were days to “engage” more in our projects and challenges and then “exhibit” to the public what we had learned and accomplished. Day Three was a heavy work day where the students built and experimented with their various team challenges. All the teens were so focused on what they were doing, that everyone had to be practically forced to go to lunch. One of the stars and super sweet staffers at Innovation Camp was our very own Girl Scout, Lizzie Brown. She and I had been in the same troop together when we were younger and it was great seeing her flourish in her element. I learned a lot from her and the other staffers’ advanced tech skills. Lizzie said, “One of my great joys of this experience is learning from other students and learning WHY something works and not just that it works!”
On Day Four, each team demonstrated its new invention in front of family and friends.
It was exciting to see how far each participant had advanced in just 4 days! This year’s Innovation Academy focused on the intersection of drones, the internet of things, 3D printing, and a little artificial intelligence. We learned to hack drones to be autonomous and to interact with a “smart” environment in order to complete tasks. The Camp encouraged us to imagine the future and to build prototypes that tested our ideas. As Dr. Kurti said, “We were intrigued by two specific new technologies this year: quadrotor drones and the internet of things. I’ve been watching these two technologies for a couple years. Along with artificial intelligence, these technologies are poised to bring major changes to the way we experience life.”
Mrs. Kurti also mentioned that some of their past campers, who had never been exposed to engineering, ended up pursuing degrees in STEM-related fields. She added, “The act of making contributes to the community and drives the entrepreneurial spirit that leads to positive change in our world.”
This was a real hands-on experience and by the end of our 4 days, everyone had experienced tackling drones, 3D printers, computers, microprocessors, LEDs, sensors, and more! During the summer months, the Innovation Academy has camps in Northern California, Southern California, Central Florida, Western North Carolina, and Central Tennessee. If anyone is interested, please go to http://InnovationTechCamp.com and http://developinginnovators.com/camp. My brother is excited about taking Mrs. Kurti’s Computer Information Systems class next semester at Victor Valley College. I was excited about the mini dinosaur and salamander that I programmed and created through the 3D printer. With Girl Scouts aggressively expanding into the fields of STEM and advanced technology, I encourage everyone to look into these very relevant fields of the future, expand the potential of their minds, and explore the world with novel eyes!