Robotics Camps Opens Pathways for Students Across Florida to Explore STEM and Robotics

Summer camp season may have concluded, but we still have some exciting highlights to report on from camps that were held across the state earlier this summer. This year as in the past few years a number of schools and organizations partnered with FLATE to once again offer invigorating robotics camps to middle and high school students across Florida.  Robotics camps were held at the: Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition located in Ocala; Palm Beach State College in Palm Beach, FLL, and Lake Sumter State College in Leesburg, FL. Each of these camps were modeled after FLATE’s robotics camps and served as a mechanism to reach out to a broader range of students across the state. The camps also proved to be a sustainable and effective mechanism to get middle and high school aged students from all socio-economic backgrounds interested in STEM and robotics education and related career pathways.

It was the first time Lake Sumter State College (LSSC) offered an engineering robotics camp for middle and high school students. A total
of 19 students (15 male, 4 female) from five schools attended the three week camp at LSSC. The students were in grades six to twelve, and were from Leesburg High School, Carver and Oak Park middle schools, Lake Preparatory Academy, including some who are homeschooled. Sara Corvill, STEM program manager at LSSC who took a leading role in hosting the camp said the overarching idea for the camps was to provide students “a space to cultivate a deeper interest in robotics and engineering for the youth in the community” and also to “provide an avenue for students to gain knowledge/confidence in designing, building and programming a robot.”

During the three week camp students were paired into groups of two and four, and received an overview of the design process of a VEX robot. “We wanted students to have an unforgettable experience—one that would open their eyes to possible careers they could pursue in future” said Corvill.  Each group received an Engineering Notebook where they documented the design process, and learned how to build and program the robot to solve challenges in the design competition. Corvill hopes this experience at the camp will inspire students to gain more knowledge about robotics, learn the value/importance of teamwork and how local colleges like LSSC can help students get started on their higher education pursuits.

In addition to the camp at LSSC, Withlacoochee Technical College (WTC) also partnered with FLATE to offer two introductory level robotics camp. This was the second year WTC offered the camps, one of which was an ‘All Girls’ camp. Laurie Newkirk, automation &
production technology instructor at WTC, who served as the director said the camps allowed students to build, program and operate robots, but more importantly gave them, especially the girls, “an opportunity to engage in hands-on STEM activities and projects led by women working in the STEM field.” Newkirk hopes the camps will expand and increase students’ interest in STEM and its applications in high-tech manufacturing. “There was a bit of fear and reluctance when we first started building & programming the robots,” but soon many were ready to start challenges and even went above and beyond the scope of the lesson plans and challenges, said Newkirk. 

As is the case with both onsite and offsite robotics camps, camp  challenges are deemed the most fun part of their overall experience by students’ as they got to work on hands-on projects, explore their creativity and apply their knowledge and skills in real-world settings. At WTC the most fun part of the camp was the bumper challenge whereby bumpers were placed on the front and rear of the robots, with students being challenged to knock down as many as bottles as possible. Both teachers and students brainstormed ideas on designing the track and placement of bottles/objects for the robot to knock down. “The participants enjoyed the activity” said Newkirk, as they also got to design and make their own cell phone accessory, create a marketing presentation, and present their ideas to fellow campers and their parents. They also enjoyed using the joystick to maneuver the robot through a course in an effort to deliver their product to the customer as quickly as possible.

All camp hosts hope to offer similar camps next year and perhaps even expand it. WTC hopes to offer more weeks of camp and an advanced camp in 2016 for students who attended this summer. Newkirk also hopes to expand the partnership with FLATE to include ideas for camp activities, assistance with media coverage and possible funding assistance.

For more information on these camps visit http://fl-ate.org/programs/summer-camps, or email Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE at barger@fl-at.org.