Brad Nettles // The Post and Courier

Second-graders Otto Johannson (left) and Madison Wright are among the campers taking apart DVD players Wednesday at Camp Invention being held at The Citadel. The children used parts of their dismantled electronics to make a machine that can throw a ball.

Spark an interest in science and math before they turn 11 and children will be more likely to pursue careers in those fields, said Carolyn Kelley, director of The Citadel's STEM Center of Excellence.

The center -- a collaboration between the military college's schools of Education and Engineering, Science and Mathematics -- is sponsoring three camps for elementary and middle school students this summer. Camp Invention, the first of the three, began this week. All camps aim to promote literacy in science, technology, engineering and math, Kelley said.

Science is 7-year-old Otto Johannson's favorite subject. He loved using tools to take apart an old DVD player at the "I Can Invent: Edison's Workshop" on Wednesday.

Students had to take apart an old electronic device, such as a DVD player or radio, then use the parts to build a "ball machine."

Otto wasn't sure how he and the rest of his team were going to build the new device, but he said he was going to try different ways to see what worked.

Josh Cook, a Citadel senior and one of the camp's teachers, said groups of students must make a device that helps a ball move from one place to another. Students could use their creativity to make any kind of device they wanted, as long it accomplished the simple task. "It teaches problem-solving skills," he said.

Jack Cuneo and Austin King, also 7, were planning to use a hinge from an old radio to make a catapult to launch the ball.

The campers will participate in other events during the week, including developing a survival plan after a simulated crash on an alien planet, and learning the basic science behind daredevil roller coasters.

Kelley said the camp gives students hands-on experience.

"They see what it means to be a scientist or an engineer." And the skills they learn are useful, even if they eventually pursue a different career path.

So far, she said, the camp has produced happy kids and parents. "They're having a blast."