Opening a Lego robotics kit, students found 431 pieces to assemble.

For most of the 28 boys and two girls, working in pairs, it only took a couple of hours.

Then they had to learn how to program the robots so they would be able to make them do various tasks.

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Using laptops, the students quickly picked that up, too.

Robotics, which combines science, technology, engineering and math, is becoming a popular trend in the area, so it made sense to again offer the Jackson County Lego Robotics Summer Camp. That ran for five days last week at the Jackson County Learning Center in Seymour.

“I’m amazed at the youth and how techy they are,” said Jackie Hill, workforce director with Jackson County Industrial Development Corp.

JCIDC teamed with Purdue Polytechnic-Columbus for the camp for the second year in a row. Jackson County 4-H also was involved for the first time.

“It’s interesting because some kids are probably more geared toward the building, and they like to build. Other kids, they really chimed in when the programming started, so they all had their own little niche,” Hill said. “It was good when we could pair them up so that they could add that balance.”

Joe Fuehne, associate professor of mechanical engineering technology and director for Purdue Polytechnic-Columbus, again served as the camp instructor. The Seymour camp is the first of three he will conduct this summer — the others are in Columbus and North Vernon.

Once the students took a couple of hours building their robots, they learned basic programming. The robots are programmable control, meaning you program them and touch the go button to make them do a certain thing.

Lego offers four different programs — FIRST Lego League Jr., FIRST Lego League, FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics. Each program targets a specific age group. The students at the Jackson County camp were grades 3 through 6, so they did FIRST Lego League.

Each year, Lego has a different game that presents different challenges. This year’s game with FIRST Lego League had 15 challenges, and students had two minutes to complete as many tasks as possible with their programmed robots.

“Some are worth a lot of points, but they are hard to get. Some are worth not so many points, but they are easy to get,” Fuehne said. “We kind of make them choose ‘What do you want to do? Do you want to get a bunch of easy ones for lower points or do you want to go for the high-risk, high-reward thing?’”

On the final day of the camp, the students’ family members were invited to watch a competition to see them apply what they had learned throughout the week.

Cruz Cooper, 10, of Brownstown and Jonathan Neawedde, 8, of Seymour, were paired together all week.

They liked putting all of the pieces together, learning about programming and then getting to compete.

“I’ve never worked with one of them before, and I liked to see how it was to work with that kind of Legos,” Cruz said.

Cruz said assembling the robot went faster than he initially thought it would.

“It was pretty easy,” he said. “I would have thought we would have got done in two days.”

Programming came easy, too.

“Once you got used to it, it was easy,” he said.

Jonathan said he registered for the camp because his brother had a good time last year.

“He said it was really awesome, and I just thought I wanted to come,” he said.

Jonathan liked spending time working with Legos and getting to choose a Lego kit to take home.

“I know I’m going to come next year,” he said.

Cruz said learning robotics at his age will help him in the future.

“Whenever you get older, if you want to be a person that works with robotics, then you could start here and you can go through middle school and high school and college and have a job for the rest of your life,” he said.

Fuehne said the students learning they can make a career out of robotics is one benefit of the camp. Other positives including building, learning how to program and spatial skills.

“At the end of it all, I want them to have fun,” he said. “I pretty much think anything that keeps them away from the television or the video games in the summer is a good thing. There’s a little bit of math involved. None of them would like for me to admit that, but there was a little bit of math.”

Hill said the camp is a fun way to get kids interested in technology and robotics.

“All of our industries use robotics, and so we’ve tried to develop a pathway,” she said. “At the middle school level, we have a camp that we’re offering, and then all five of our high schools have a VEX Robotics program, so it’s definitely getting kids engaged in this career pathway.”

A couple of engineers from Cummins Inc. also helped with the camp.

“Industries see the importance in all of this and are willing to invest their people and their time in making this happen,” Hill said. “This is their future workforce.”

A few other local businesses and industries also saw the importance of the camp and donated 10 laptops for the students to use. JCIDC will keep those for future camps.

Several of the students at the camp had attended a Leap Into Robotics kickoff event Feb. 29, where they sampled building, programming and using robots.

Jackson County 4-H received a grant from Duke Energy to start that program, which sparked kids in grades 3 through 12 to join 4-H, attend the camp this past week and join a new year-round 4-H robotics club.

Heather Schneider, Jackson County’s 4-H youth development educator with Purdue Extension Jackson County, said she’s glad 4-H is a part of the robotics movement in the county.

“A lot of people in Jackson County are trying to do the same thing, and when you’re all trying to do the same thing and be experts at it, you can’t do that. You’ve got to work together,” she said.

“That’s honestly how this partnership was born. (JCIDC and Purdue Polytechnic-Columbus) had already been doing the camp last year, and they found out we had Lego robotics, and we said, ‘Hey, let’s all partner and work together on this.’”

4-H plans to have interactive science features at the Jackson County Fair and then start the year-round robotics club in the fall, and Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana also is starting a Seymour-based Lego robotics team.

With 4-H now involved, it’s possible to have two Lego robotics camps next summer.

“It’s a hot topic right now,” Schneider said. “Ultimately, we’re all working together for the youth of Jackson County. … We’re all kind of working together, and we want to be able to do things throughout the year.”

At a glance

Any adult interested in volunteering to help with a new year-round 4-H robotics club in Jackson County may contact Heather Schneider at 812-358-6101 or schneidh@purdue.edu.

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.