FLATE’s Robotics Camps Offer a STEM-ultimate Experience for Future Engineers

Middle and high school students attending FLATE’s robotics camp got a full serving of
robotics and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) to whet their appetite. “Science is basically logic and reasoning, it’s what the universe is about” said Christopher Browy, a 5th grader at Christ the King Catholic school in Tampa.  “We love mathematics, robotics, science and technology” said Luca Valenti and Brennan Gill, 5th graders at the same school. Christopher, Luca and Brennan were among 141 students who enrolled in FLATE’s robotics camps this summer.

This year FLATE offered six (three intro level; 2 intermediate and one high school) robotics
camps. Curriculum for all the camps comprised of a mixture of LEGO educational materials that were integrated with STEM subjects. Each camp offered different level of challenges. During the introductory camp students learned how to reconfigure Lego® Mindstorms® robots and programmed them to follow specific commands. “The exercises were fun as they challenged your ability to really think” said Brennan.

The intermediate camps presented students with more complex challenges. Campers designed, built and programmed a robot, learned about 3D printers and gained hands-on knowledge about CAD.  “I love when a robot breaks. If your robot works all the time you don’t get to be challenged” said Karina Barcenas, an 8th grader at St. Lawrence Catholic School in Tampa. Barcenas found the challenges harder in the intermediate camp, but said she learned a lot.

The pinnacle for every camper as they progress through each level is the advanced
engineering camp for high school students. At the camp, students not only solved challenges using Lego® Mindstorms® robots, but learned different topics each day and wrote programs to operate the NAO humanoid robot. The high school campers also learned how to use Arduino Uno Microprocessors. “The Arduino taught me how to do more of circuitry and actually write programs on the computer, so it taught me a lot more” said Jefferson Vance, a 9th grader at Middleton High School in Tampa.

As part of the high school challenge, campers were presented with the “cable tram challenge.” Campers had to design, build and program a robot to crawl across a make-believe canyon to pick up buckets and transport them back to a drop-off location. For Randy, a 9th grader at Wesley Chapel High School in Tampa and his team (named Hyperion Inc.) one of the basic concepts that they had to understand about the robot was the drive train. Once they got that figured out everything was smooth sailing, in that theirs was the only robot that never slipped off the wire.

The camps were not all work and no play. The “fun part” for most high school campers was programming the NXT robot and also working with the NAO robot. The best part of the camp for Brennan, who was in the intro camp, was the challenges as it gave him a better understanding about programming and building a robot. “It’s a really fun way to release your creativity, show who you are and how you like things done” Brennan said.   

Common takeaways for all campers regardless of which camp they attended were teamwork,
developing problem-solving and critical thinking skills. “I like that the challenges made us work together as a team” said Luca. Christopher Browy also liked the competitive aspect of the challenges as it gave him a fresh perspective on how to operate robots. “This is like one of the best camps I’ve ever been to and probably the best place to start if you want to become an engineer” said Nick Burke, a high school camp attendee from Wharton High School in Tampa. Randy also enjoyed working in small groups and easy access to instructors who helped with programing and giving ideas for improvement.

This summer FLATE’s robotics attendance was excellent, said Desh Bagley, FLATE’s outreach manager and camp director. The “all girls” camp had its highest enrollment at 21, and the high school camp had 28 campers.  The Intermediate camps saw an increase in the number of girls who decided to return after having participated in the intro camp.  In addition to the camps offered at Hillsborough Community College in Brandon, FLATE also partnered with the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Ocala and Pineview Charter School in Sarasota to offer camps at the respective locations. 

For more information on FLATE’s STEM and robotics based curriculum and projects for middle and high school students visit www.fl-ate.org/projects/camps.html, and www.madeinflorida.org. You can also contact Desh Bagley, outreach manager at camps@fl-ate.org, and Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director at barger@fl-ate.org.