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Community Education: Great minds at work

What's better: tearing something apart, or trying to something entirely different together?

For sure, the jury is out on that one at Farmington Community Education. Ask just about any of the 70 or so kids enrolled in this year's Camp Invention, and it's likely each one will have a different answer.

There is activity just about everywhere at Community Education, both inside and outside. And not a single student is bored. They're too busy learning.

The great thing, though, is the students might not even realize they're learning, said Camp Invention director Mike Larson. So much of what they are doing is hands-on, the instructors -- a handful of District 192 teachers and some parent volunteers -- do not even have to get the kids to pay attention. The kids are already figuring it out on their own.

"The kids learn on their own how things work and why they work, and they're making their own adaptations as they go along," Larson said. "I think it's a fun program for kids."

At all times, there are five courses going on during the day. Each course presents a its own set of activities and challenges, and the students are given just enough information to go ahead and work on their own.

For instance, in one room -- the "take apart room" -- some of the younger students are busy with, well, taking apart various appliances their parents have donated for the program. Be it an old telephone or a boom box, the students are in there, dismantling items piece by piece. It's a pretty popular class, Larson said, for a very good reason.

"A lot of them are excited to take things apart because Mom and Dad usually say no," he said.

Ultimately, the students in that course -- the I Can Invent: Fantasy Inventions and Complicated Machines II class -- will try to put together a contraption that, through a series of different functions, links different machines together with the ultimate goal of breaking a rotten egg into a pan.

Meanwhile, outside, the older kids in the Land Sled X-Treme are using levers they have created to launch ping pong balls into the air. The goal is to get as many balls into a bucket as possible, to earn points and "purchase" materials to build sophisticated, working land sleds by the end of the week.

Camp Invention is sponsored by the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and runs for five days from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The classes are open to kids in grades 1-6. Not all of those kids are from Farmington schools, though -- so popular is the course that it draws students from districts including Lakeville and Prior Lake.

Most of the materials used to make the inventions come from recycled items. Parents are asked to keep some recyclables and donate them to the class. Students then use everything from the center cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper to empty egg cartons to build their inventions.

The week concludes on Friday, when the students have a chance to show off all of their inventions to family and friends.

And if they learn a thing or two along the way, so much the better, Larson said.

"It's a good program for kids, too, to get them back into the swing of things over summer vacation," he said.