Magazine article Techniques

Robotics Camps Provide a STEM-Ulating Experience

Magazine article Techniques

Robotics Camps Provide a STEM-Ulating Experience

Article excerpt

Carefully crafted robotics camps provide a number of benefits and advantages for students who attend. For those new to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), robotics camps may spark an interest that starts them on STEM education and career pathways. For those already interested in STEM fields, these camps encourage them to continue selecting and enjoying STEM curriculum as they advance through school and into college and careers. What's more, students working hands-on with robots have the opportunity to experience a team-based learning environment, as well as get an introduction to authentic engineering processes through problem-based learning.

At Florida Advanced Technology Center's (FLATE's) robotics camps, we aim to accomplish these goals: giving participants as authentic an experience as possible, while fostering their interest in STEM. The beginner camps introduce students to robotics, and our intermediate and advanced robotics camps give students with previous robotics experience an opportunity to advance their skills. High school camps and camps offered to special populations (e.g., all-girls camps) extend the reach of the traditional summer robotics camp for increased community impact.

Since 2005, FLATE's robotics summer camps have provided a unique experience in advanced technology education for 970 campers in 47 summer camps. These camps serve as a model and provide resources for other Florida high-tech camps. A signature feature of FLATE's robotics camps for all levels are the "Made in Florida" tours, which have an emphasis on advanced manufacturing. These hightech industry tours include presentations and activities, have provided a national model for Manufacturing Day, (1) and are a best practice for introducing students to technical careers (Cox & Pierce, 2014).

Introductory Robotics Camps

FLATE's summer robotics camps, which start at the middle school level, are often participants' first exposure to robotics. Other introductory-level participants may come to camp having had some interaction with robots through informal experiences, older siblings or through school or after-school programs.

In order to effectively hook students and engage their interest in STEM using robots, it's important to make the camp experience fun, varied and relevant. Our philosophy is simple:

Technology is more fun when you actually know what is going on. FLATE's emphasis on the technology and engineering (T&E) side of sTEm is revealed in the components of the camp's STEM activities: The camps "tool" is robotics, its "toy" is the LEGO[R] MINDSTORMS[R] robot, and its "trick" is to dissolve the robots into an environment where the technology is the star, and seeing the results of their own engineering decisions is the reason campers are having fun (Barger, Gilbert, & Boyette, 2011).

The reach and scope of robotics summer camps, as well as robotics after-school clubs and competitions, are growing. Why? Because kids love robots! And when students ask to be a part of an activity that teaches not only STEM curriculum, but also emphasizes learning and teamwork, parents love robots too. Over the past five years, of the more than 200 parents who took FLATE's satisfaction surveys administered at the end of each camp, 96.2 percent were "very satisfied" or "extremely satisfied" with the camp and would recommend the experience to others.

Exposure to robotics and high-tech careers at an early age has the potential benefit of helping to prepare a highly skilled workforce for advanced manufacturing industries. In many cases, students are unaware of the interesting high-tech and well-paid jobs in fields like advanced manufacturing. And when they go on the industry tours and see the robots in action in a high-tech environment, their awareness of and their interest in the options grows. In a post-camp survey, participants' awareness of advanced manufacturing career options saw a + 108% positive change (Table 1). …

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