Gabriella Parisi had no idea learning about robotics, technology and computer coding could be so much fun.
With a busy schedule of swimming and other activities planned, she really had no interest in spending time in a classroom trying to figure out how to build or program a robot.
But that was before her mom convinced her to enroll in Robocode Camp at Seymour Middle School this summer.
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“And I’m so glad I did,” said Parisi, who will be in sixth-grade this fall. “This is so much fun. There are so many things to do. It’s full of activities.”
All week, the 40 Robocode campers have completed different projects involving science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM curriculum. The camp, in its second year, is for sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders and runs for 2½ hours each morning for two weeks.
On Thursday morning, the kids put their problem-solving, technical and teamwork skills to use to build robotic bubble blowers with Little Bit kits.
The students came up with ideas for how to make their machines blow the biggest and the most bubbles. Taking the lesson outside, they put their machines to the test.
Results varied — some bubbles were big, and some weren’t — but one thing that was constant, was how much the students enjoyed what they were doing. Many of them said they wanted to do the projects at home too.
Besides the Little Bits kits, students are getting exposure to 3-D modeling and printing with Tinkercad, flying drones, 360 degree cameras, virtual reality using Google Cardboard and coding with Spheros, which are small, ball-shaped robots that roll around like BB8 from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
Another popular activity has been the Breakout EDU challenge, where students work in teams to find clues to “break out” of a room.
Next week, there are planned field trips to Cummins and other industries in Seymour that use robotics. Guest speakers such as Dallas Goecker who works in robotics will be visiting the classrooms.
Parisi said because of the camp, she now has an interest in robotics, coding and technology.
And that’s exactly what camp coordinator Curt Schleibaum wants to hear, especially from young girls, who often shy away from male-dominated STEM areas.
“We have 15 girls this year, which is more than last year,” he said. “We’re really trying.”
He also said there is interest in starting a camp for high-school aged students.
“We’re tying to find a way to expand to have some kind of exploratory, summer program that gets them more involved with coding and builds upon this camp,” he said.
The purpose of Robocode camp isn’t to teach kids everything there is to know about robots, he added.
“It’s all about problem-solving, trying to get them to understand they can learn outside of school and getting them around like-minded kids so they can share what they’re learning,” he said. “There’s a lot of exposure in this camp to things and to get them to understand that education is definitely fun and the more you learn the more doors will open.”
Although the camp is funded through a grant through Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., Schleibaum said it wouldn’t be possible without support from the school corporation, local businesses and industries and his team of Robocode teachers — Tom Lucas, Nathan Owen and Angie Lucas.
Madelyn Ramp and Victoria Valdivia are second-year campers.
“I just like building things and getting things to work,” Ramp, a seventh-grader, said. “And then once we take it home, I like to do different things over and over again, showing my parents how cool it is.”
Ramp said she has even asked her mom to buy her a Spheros for home.
Valdivia said one of her favorite projects so far has been using the Little Bit kits to make musical instruments.
“But really I love it all,” she said of the camp. “I’ve learned how things work and it gives me an idea of what I want to do when I’m older. I want to be maybe an engineer because I really like the math behind it all.”
Schleibaum said another goal of the camp is to introduce students to local career options.
“We talk a lot on career opportunities in the community,” he said. “There are so many open positions in the community and we’d love to see Seymour applicants. I’d like to see some of our students get those jobs and stay in our community.”
Josh Cardenas, an incoming eighth-grader, just moved to the area three months ago from California and was glad to find something to do this summer and a way to meet new friends.
“I did something similar to this in California,” he said of the camp.
He partnered with Brayton Brackemyre to work on the bubble blowers. They came up with idea to use two batteries to try to get their fan to blow faster to make a bigger bubble.
Brackemyre said he’s liked all the different projects and things they’ve built so far.
“But my favorite thing we’ve done was probably the Breakout EDU,” he said.
“It’s a lot of fun to watch middle-school students work together as a team on a common goal and communicate,” Schleibaum added.
There’s a lot of trial and error when it comes to robots and coding, and it takes patience, but anyone can do it, Brackemyre added.
“It’s not that hard really,” he said.
“There’s no doubt that for some of these kids, their spark could be here in camp and then they can go on and build on it outside of school, and who knows where they’ll be able to take it,” Schleibaum added.