Robotics camp gives kids building blocks for careers

July 18, 2011

By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville students recently engaged in learning and thinking critically by building and programming robots.

Last week, a robotics camp was held at Martinsville Middle School, sponsored by NASA’s Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy (SEMAA).

“The camp incorporates the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) components, which the students can apply to learning and to real-life situations,” said Anne Stultz, SEMAA site director and robotics team coach at Martinsville Middle School.

“The camp is fun ... it’s three hours of smiles,” said Chuck McPeak, robotics team coach and teacher at Martinsville Middle School.

During the camp, the students built robots and used computer software to program the robots to navigate through an obstacle course. At the end of the week, the students were to take part in a competition to see which camper’s robot could best navigate through the course, according to Stultz.

“We hope to satisfy that competitive spirit in them,” and the students are learning at the same time, said Mark Toole, middle and high school robotics team coach and a math teacher at Martinsville High School.

Reese Walker, one of the campers, said her favorite part of the camp was programming the robots. “It’s fun when you see what you’ve programmed in action” on the course, she said.

The course consisted of missions or obstacles. The students had to program in a certain number of wheel rotations and measure how far the robot had to move to complete each mission, Stultz said.

When a student completed a mission, he received points. Reese said Wednesday she had completed five missions on the course.

Each robot and the course obstacles are partially made with LEGOs, which was camper Nathan Arrington’s favorite part. “I really like LEGOs, and it’s fun to work with this type of LEGOs,” he said.

The camp also was a training program for students who are interested in joining the robotics teams.

During the school year, there are three robotics teams between Martinsville middle and high schools, according to Stultz.

The robotics teams involve teamwork by putting together a skit and conducting research projects as well as taking part in robotics competitions, Toole said.

Some of the research projects involve how robotics are used in medicine, such as prosthetics, Toole said. “There are so many areas involved in this program .... There are not many programs out there” that incorporate all of the STEM components, he said.

The purpose of the robotics camp and the robotics teams is to “excite kids about STEM-related activities and promote on-going learning opportunities and keep them engaged in the thinking process,” Stultz said.

Student Harrison Toole, who is Mark Toole’s son, was in his third year of the camp and has been on the robotics team during his middle school years. He will be moving up to the high school robotics team in the coming school year, which involves a lot more electronics and more detailed programming, his father said.

Harrison’s favorite part of being on the robotics team is “being able to go to competitions each year and seeing other people’s strategies ... it’s very challenging and a lot of fun.

“I’ve learned that in order to get things right, you have to try and try again,” he added.

“We want to give them the idea that this is something that they can further their lives with — to push them toward science and math careers,” Stultz said.

“Technology and engineering is where the nation is going,” Mark Toole said.

This year’s robotics camp involved 28 students in the sixth through eighth grades.

“I’m really pleased with this group, and they’re very enthused,” Stultz said.

The students will participate in robotics competitions starting in the fall, and Martinsville Middle School will host the FIRST LEGO League competition for the area on Nov. 19, according to Stultz.


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