eing a 9-year-old boy, Owen Lauster of Seymour is no stranger to LEGOs.
He has been building things out of the small, colored, interconnecting blocks for years, he said.
“I’ve got two boxes this big at home full of LEGOs,” Owen said, spreading his arms wide apart.
So when he heard about a LEGO camp being conducted this summer at the Jackson County Learning Center in Seymour, there was no way he wasn’t going to get involved.
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Last week, for three hours each morning, 30 young boys and girls from Seymour, Brownstown and Crothersville experienced the magic of LEGOs in a whole new way. Instead of building scenes, the youngsters built robots, which they later hooked up to computers and programmed to do tasks.
The LEGOs Mindstorm summer camp was organized and sponsored by Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. and led by Purdue University College of Technology in Columbus.
“I just love robots and LEGOs,” Owen said. “My dad is an engineer in the Army and builds things, and that’s what I want to do.”
The camp is the first step in getting children in third through sixth grade to think logically and get them interested in a career involving robotics, said Purdue College of Technology professor Joseph Fuehne.
Early in the week, the kids paired up, followed instructions and built Mindstorm robots. They spent the next few days learning how to program the robots with touch and light sensors to do things like move at the sound of hands clapping or to stop when an object was in its path.
On Friday, the last day of camp, the students were invited to compete in a FIRST LEGO League competition, in which the robots had to complete increasingly difficult tasks in a certain amount of time. All of the tasks had to be programmed into the robots first.
“It’s not like remote control where you just use a joystick,” Fuehne said. “Once the kids finish programming, it’s hands off. If they’ve done it right, the robot will follow the commands and move on its own.”
Owen said programming was the most difficult but interesting part of the camp.
“I wasn’t used to that; but once I did it a few times, it got easier,” he said.
The hope is that students want to do more and sign up for the Vex Robotics Summer Camp at Aisin when they are in middle school and then enroll in robotics and engineering classes when they get to high school.
“We wanted something to lead into that, a pathway to encourage kids to go into robotics,” said Jackie Hill, workforce development director with JCIDC.
Fuehne said it’s important to get kids interested in robotics at a young age.
“They need to get involved now,” he said. “If you wait until high school, it can be tough to get them to try something new.”
Besides engineering and robots, Fuehne said, he also incorporates math in the camp so students understand why it’s such an important subject to learn in school.
The fields of robotics and engineering require a high skill set that is greatly in demand in today’s workforce, Hill added.
She said there was a lot of interest in the camp and some kids had to be turned away because it filled up so quickly.
“We plan on doing it again next year, and I think we will probably be able to do two sessions,” she said.
For Fuehne, the real reward of LEGOs camp is seeing kids take an interest in something that could lead them to a career.
“These kids are not on their phones or computers, and they’re not at home playing video games,” he said. “They may find they are good at computer programming or mechanical engineering.”
Besides technical skills needed to build and program the robots, the students also were developing “soft skills,” such as teamwork and problem solving, Hill added.
“They’ve really been engaged and interested in what they’re doing,” she said.
Cory Robinson, 10, of Seymour, said he’s glad he signed up for the camp this year and would like to do it again next year.
“I’ve always been around LEGOs, but this is a lot different,” he said. “It makes you think a lot.”
“These kids are not on their phones or computers, and they’re not at home playing video games. They may find they are good at computer programming or mechanical engineering.”
Purdue professor Joseph Fuehne, on the value of programs like LEGOs Mindstorm summer camp