LEGO robotics camp teaches math, engineering

June 22, 2012

By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Between building and programming robots, students were learning a lot about technology, math and engineering on Thursday.

About 30 students took part in a LEGO robotics camp this week at the New College Institute and sponsored by the Martinsville Middle School NASA SEMAA (Science, Engineering, Math and Aerospace Academy) program.

During the camp, students built and programmed robotic vehicles using LEGO construction toys and competed against one another on a FIRST LEGO League course.

On the “Food Factor” course, which contained obstacles pertaining to the environment, students had to use the robots to complete missions such as pushing a corn harvester across the course until LEGO pieces that represented corn exited out of the harvester; retrieving fish from a pond designed on the course; and dumping a load of LEGO parts that represented bacteria without dropping any on the course.

Most of the students participating in the camp, which is offered to rising sixth- through eighth-graders at MMS, were rising sixth-graders who never had been on a robotics team before, said Mark Toole, camp instructor and robotics team coach for Martinsville middle and high schools.

The purpose of the camp is to teach students about science, technology, math and engineering, and also to get them excited about robotics programs that could spark an interest in pursuing careers in robotics and engineering, Toole said.

The hope also is to recruit students for the middle school’s three robotics teams, and so far, students in the camp have expressed interest in joining a robotics team, he added.

Students in the camp learn how to work as a team, which is vital when competing in regional and state robotics team competitions, Toole said.

“You have to work in a team to get it done ... you can’t work by yourself,” said Ainsley Phillips, a rising sixth-grade camper.

When they work together, students can bounce ideas off of one another on how to build or ways to program their robots as well as problem solve when the robot does not successfully complete a mission, Ainsley said.

He enjoyed the camp because he loves working with computers, and robotics allows him to do so when programming the robot, he said.

Tristan Mase, a rising sixth-grader and camp participant, grew up playing with LEGO bricks, so getting to design and build a robot with the building blocks is especially fun, he said.

Abby Mounce, camp participant and rising sixth-grader, found out during the camp that it is more technical than she thought to build and program a robot, she said.

Abby learned that “you have to be very focused to be able to do this (build and program),” she said.

Her favorite part of robotics is the feeling of accomplishment she gets when “you see that what you did is actually working” and the robot is successfully navigating the course, she said.

“I never realized robotics would be this fun,” she added.

A great deal of math is incorporated into programming the robots, Toole said. Students are required to measure the circumference of a robot’s wheels and calculate how many rotations need to be programmed into the computer for the robot to move a certain distance across the course, he added.

Abby said working with robots has made her enjoy math and science more, as well.


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