By Kim Underwood Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
AUGUST 3 – At the LEGO Robotics camp, Sarah Barlow discovered that she thoroughly enjoys building and programming robots.
“I think it’s kind of cool that you can tell the robots what to do,” said Sarah, a seventh-grader at Hanes Magnet School. After the robot that she and Haley Hubbard, a sixth-grader at Hanes, built and programmed together ran an obstacle course, Sarah found herself thinking with satisfaction, “I made it do that.”
Sarah and Haley were among 40 students – 20 in the morning session and another 20 in the afternoon session – who participated in the second annual LEGO Robotics Summer Camp at Hanes. Andy Kraft, the school system’s lead teacher for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), coordinated the camp.
The wheeled robots that the students built while working in teams of two were small enough to hold in your hand. One of the main projects for the week was to design and program the robots so that they could perform various feats, such as loading items into a trailer, as they moved around a course set up on a 4-foot-by-8-foot table.
In honor of the Summer Olympics, the students – after some tinkering with the designs and programming of their robots – also staged a series of relay races in a hallway. Each team of two worked with another team of two so that one robot would roll 22 feet down the hallway and “hand off” to the other robot, which would then return down the hall 22 feet.
Naturally, during the course of the week, many of the robots acquired names. Sarah and Haley named theirs Fred. The boys in the team with which the girls partnered for the relay – Makai Clayton, a fifth-grader at Brunson Elementary, and Jonathan Alexander, a fourth-grader at Brunson – named their robot Tony.
Although the robots faced such challenges as navigating a hallway without veering off course and successfully activating the other robot to return, Fred and Tony met the challenge with aplomb. Both boys readily acknowledged that, before the race, they weren’t sure the robots would pull it off.
“I was surprised,” Jonathan said.
A second foursome – made up of Walker Stephen, a fifth-grader at Whitaker Elementary; Seth Scheipers, a fourth-grader at Jefferson Elementary; Myles Halsey, a sixth-grader at Hanes; and Rui Grier, a sixth-grader at Hanes – also successfully completed the relay with their robots, Robie and Ted.
Students such as Rui and Myles were attracted to the camp because they like to build with LEGOs and thought this would be a fun next step. Others just thought the whole enterprise sounded as if it would be fun. “It sounded really cool,” said Walker.
While the students were having fun, the teachers leading the camp hoped that they were also learning that working in a team can be rewarding, that sometimes the simpler solution is the better solution and that, often, solving a problem isn’t a matter of finding a single, right solution.
“There is no one solution,” said Natalie Norman, who teaches at Hanes. “There are hundreds of ways to solve the problem.” Betty Jo Moore and Samatha Shires also taught at the camp.
Learning such things can help students not only in school but also in life. “They are life skills that are needed by anybody,” Kraft said.
Plus, all of this fits in well with the new Common Core curriculum that is designed to help students learn the skills necessary to be successful in an increasingly complex world.
The teachers said that, for them, such approaches to learning also bring the bonus of getting to see students excited about what they’re doing.
“It brings a whole new energy to teaching,” said Moore, who teaches at Brunson Elementary. “They get so into it.”