Middle schoolers get hands-on learning in robotics at CSCC’s first STEM camp
by JOYANNA WEBER, Banner Staff Writer
Jul 12, 2013 | 1147 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
STEM camp
JAYNAE WRIGHT and Alma Smith display their robot at the Cleveland State Community College STEM camp. Banner photos, JOYANNA WEBER
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Local middle schoolers are learning the basics of robotics at Cleveland State Community College’s first STEM camp.

The camp culminated Thursday with the beginning of a two-day Lego Mindstorm “Green City” challenge, in which students earn points through completing tasks with the robot. Campers will compete to see who can collect the most points.

Each task of the challenge has some element of making the “city” more environmentally friendly while emphasizing the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math.

“In Green City they are given a group of missions and challenges where they are asked to, from a starting point, program the robot ... to go from point A to point B, to activate a windmill, to put a solar panel on the top of a (Lego brick) house, to pick up a piece of trash ... to plug a hole in the dam with a Lego, (etc),” said Allan Gentry, main teacher for the camp and chair of the CSCC technology department. “This is kind of a points-based exercise where they get to use all of their knowledge, skill and ability.”

The Lego Robotics program being used allows students to build and program the robots. Different sensors on the robot can make it sensitive to touch, light or color. Campers worked in groups of two or three to built and test their own robot.

“We started day one with building the robots so they literally take everything out of the kit and organize their parts and pieces ... then they had to build the framework the robot has to operate in,” Gentry said. “[Over] the next several days, we spend teaching them some of the basic programming that enables the robot to do some of the things it does, like driving forward and backward and using a variety of sensors.”

Many middle schoolers are interested in robots and many have played with Legos, so it was a good medium for the camp, said Rick Creasy, director of Workforce development at the college.

Gentry and Creasy said the camp team received training on the program from the Lego Mindstorm training team. Team members visit learning sites such as camps to prepare instructors for teaching Lego robotics.

“We are running into some unique troubleshooting problems that they did not cover in our training class,” Gentry said.

Gentry said the camp activities were developed to keep the students engaged.

“As part of workforce development we need to start early establishing a science, technology, engineering and math mindset in grade school,” Creasy said.

Creasy said the college put out invitations to Cleveland, Lake Forest and Ocoee Middle Schools as well as Tennessee Christian Preparatory School. Creasy said he also met with career and technical education teachers at both of the local public school systems.

Some of the students, like Jaynae Wright and Alma Smith, have no experience with Lego robots. Other campers, like Timmy Morgan, have worked with them before.

“My favorite part is probably making it do different experiments,” Alma said.

Smith said the campers had worked with touch sensors to make robots move in a square.

Jaynae said assembling her team’s robot was the most difficult part for her because of all the little pieces.

Assembling the robot correctly is important. “Otherwise, something will be broken and it won’t be where it can carry out the order,” Jaynae said.

She said she has enjoyed “getting to learn something new” during the camp. Jaynae commented that she was better at the programing aspects then the building aspects.

Timmy said he has some Lego robotics sets at home.

Fellow camper Ben Sparkman said he enjoyed “building and programming it. I like both.” He said he has also enjoyed learning more about what the robots can do.

Assembling the robot proved to be the most difficult part for the boys.

STEM knowledge could be beneficial to these students later when they are looking at potential careers

“We have employers in this area who cannot find qualified workers because they are not proficient in STEM. They are not proficient in applied math. They don’t have the technical skills employers are looking for,” Creasy said.

Camp facilitators hope the campers will be encouraged to further their learning in STEM fields.

“We are trying to partner with the schools to make sure our kids are prepared for 21st century jobs,” Creasy said.

In total 30 students in sixth and seventh grade participated in the camp. To make the camp more affordable, Cleveland State used grant funding to purchase the robot kits, which can be used repeatedly.

Cleveland State hopes to hold similar camps three times a year in the future. The first summer camp is serving as a pilot.