Several departments and athletic teams across campus host camps throughout the summer for local children of all ages. One example is the Robotics and Programming camp that the department of computer science organizes. Jan Wilms, department chair, started the camp seven years ago and modeled it after a camp that the physics department was doing back then. “Our department had purchased Lego Robotics kits for our Intro to Computer Science class, and they were perfect for an outreach program to middle schoolers to get them involved in science and technology,” Wilms said.
The camp has been going on this week from 1-4pm each day. Camper Jake Lancaster said, “I like Lego camp because it’s very entertaining to program and drive the robots, and it’s fun to meet new friends.” The camp mixes fun and games with challenges like line following, maze traversal and races with the robots. Everything is built on a foundation of engineering principles and programming concepts. Wilms explains, “The kids learn about differential gears and Ackerman steering but also about advanced programming like multithreading and event-driven programming. This is possible because Lego makes available a visual programming language that is very user friendly, and the immediate feedback that the robots provide encourages trial-and-error and hones debugging skills. We even use some trigonometry that the younger ones haven’t learned yet in school, and they don’t seem to mind because it is directly applicable to getting the robot to cover the desired distance.”
Several of the campers have attended consecutive years as the camp offers something different each summer. There are many different designs available for the robots that are fun for the campers to build and test.
“Our hope is that this will inspire the kids to continue their passion and choose a career in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field,” says Wilms. We’ve enjoyed having these campers here all week!