Robots rule at STEM Camp

By Jana E. Pye, Editor,

Tiny robotic vehicles whirred around a tabletop arena as their young creators looked on, nervous for their mechanized babies. These 7th and 8th grade students, participants in Darlington County School District’s first robotics camp, had put in two weeks of hard work, poring over calculations and programming instructions, and they showed off the truly cool results of their labors at a July 23 demonstration held at the Darlington County Institute of Technology.

The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Camp teams built various types of vehicles to learn principles of motion and construction, like a pasta car with a balloon-powered thrust system, and a paper car that could withstand a steep drop while protecting its fragile egg passenger.

“All of that culminated in a robotics competition… in terms of designing and programming a robot to do certain functions,” explains Jerry Rivers, Darlington County School District Math and Science Coordinator.

Students built robotic cars to perform functions that sometimes elude adult drivers – things like parallel parking and three-point turns – and most of the demos went off without a hitch. But even when the robots didn’t perform perfectly the first time, the teams conferred, made adjustments, and corrected the problem in short order. Rivers says that behavior, talking and pooling ideas, was part of the curriculum.

“We did several activities engaging them to learn to come together as a group, as a team, to construct these different types of cars,” he says. “They took the mindset of a project… and they said, ‘Hey, I’ve got to persevere through this. I’ve got to make this happen.’”

STEM camp student Kenneth Wingate says the end result, seeing a robot he helped create carry out its mission, was worth all the effort.

“It feels amazing because you and your team worked together to complete something that’s really big, that most people don’t have a chance to do,” says Wingate, a rising 8th grader. “The fact that we did all our math right, like dimensional analysis, finding the circumference of everything for the number of rotations – it’s a great feeling.”

The STEM Camp wasn’t all number crunching, though; students took a trip to the BMW Manufacturing Co. in Greer and witnessed high performance automobiles pieced together by workers on a robotics-assisted assembly line.

“My favorite part was what they call ‘slapping the baby,’ when it officially becomes a BMW and they take a hammer and tap the BMW emblem (onto the hood),” says Wingate.
Rivers says the camp has generated great interest among the students, broadening their understanding about how robotics can be incorporated into careers in both science and engineering.

“I think it’s really going to be beneficial. They’re already asking about next year,” says Rivers.

Two of the 7th and 8th grade students with one of their robots created at STEM Camp. Photo BY Samantha Lyles

Two of the 7th and 8th grade students with one of their robots created at STEM Camp.
Photo BY Samantha Lyles

Author: Duane Childers

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