Not the average summer camp

Jul. 11, 2014 @ 07:04 PM

Ten students had the chance to experience a different kind of summer camp this past week at Orange High School in Hillsborough. There were no campfires or sleeping bags — instead there were robots.

Those 10 students spent their week learning from high school students about some of the basics of building robotics through presentations, activities and even a few arts and crafts.

Nina Daye, one of the adults facilitating the camp, said about 50 hours of volunteer work went into the week’s activities, including a competition hosted Friday afternoon at the high school.

The camp catered to rising fourth- through eighth-graders. Throughout the week they prepared for the competition. On Wednesday they were given the final details of the competition — “The Odyssey” by Homer. The obstacles in the course reflected the story line, including having to avoid sirens and defeat a Cyclops.

For the camp counselors, being able to teach robotics to a younger student helps pass on the importance of learning STEM subjects.

Rising senior Alia Riley had always been interested in Legos, and getting to help create robotics with Mindstorm products was just an extension of that. After attending a girls’ camp with IBM she became more interested. The campers this week worked with Mindstorms, which are Lego-like products that can be programmed to do certain activities, like navigate an obstacle course.

Rising freshmen Jessica Dawson and Camille Wilcox had older siblings that got them interested in robotics, and their passion flourished from there.

“Just seeing robots at the presentations and competitions (got me interested),” Wilcox said. “Then my sister talks about it all the time, it’s kind of one of those things that sounds really awesome.”

Robotics also teaches a lot of necessary job skills like teambuilding and leadership, Riley said.

“This world is turning toward technology,” Wilcox said. The three of them also stressed the importance of getting young girls involved early in STEM initiatives.

It also helps create a family and a place for students to connect.

“It’s important to get kids involved at a young age, because most don’t have a place,” Dawson said. “I think of robotics as a place where the kids that don’t really fit in can go ... It’s a family really.”

The three joked that the robotics team spends almost too much time together during competition season, especially when they’re putting together the machine.

When it came to teaching the campers, having different presentations on robotics throughout the week helped, but as the counselors found out, some of the campers already knew quite a bit.

“Some of them are so smart,” Dawson said.

“And they even correct us, that happened with me,” Riley added.

They said the campers were bright and engaged throughout the entire week.

“If you just look at them and hear the conversations,” Wilcox said. “It’s something that they really truly enjoy. And that makes it fun for us.”

Camp director Casey Gentry, a rising junior, said getting younger students involved in robotics helps them learn new mindsets.

“They’re in this mind set that reading, math, science is boring,” Gentry said. “It just shows them how fun school can be.”

Hannah Ross, rising sophomore, helped judge the competition and said that it also motivates students to integrate art and science.

“Even if you don’t grow up to be a computer engineer ... it’s still a good experience,” Wilcox said.