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Science starts early at Cloverbud Camp
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Reading was not required to build a robot at Mississippi State University’s Cloverbud Camp, but teamwork, persistence and willingness to follow directions helped all of the pieces fit into place.
The Extension Center for Technology Outreach and 4-H recently hosted a camp designed to introduce young scientists to the wonders of engineering at a robotics camp for 5- to 8-year-olds. Activities centered on the theme of the London Olympics and the antics of a fictitious robot named Axelbots, who introduced participants to concepts related to both the Olympic games and robotics.
“Current research suggests that children, girls in particular, are more apt to engage in science, engineering and technology related activities if there is a creative backdrop or story,” said Mariah Smith, Extension technology specialist. “The children love to go along with Axelbots on all of his grand adventures, and he stays in touch with them by mail after camp is over.
“The purpose of this camp is to test out our Cloverbud robotics curriculum for the upcoming year. We want to make sure it meets state educational requirements as well as the 4-H framework, and that it can be replicated easily across the state,” she said.
To build their first robot -- a soccer goalie attached to a motorized arm that would move it -- students worked in teams and followed step-by-step picture instructions. They gathered pieces from a kit of Legos, and when their goalie was finished, they plugged it into a laptop computer. A wadded up a piece of paper served as a soccer ball.
Partners Eric Mellin, 6, and Ethan Hicks, 7, anxiously awaited their programming instructions.
MSU junior Kelly Bartlett demonstrated the programming sequence, which consisted of clicking on icons and dragging them across the screen to create a string of code-containing tiles. Directional arrows, increments of time and programming blocks tell the robot what to do.
“The computer is going to make it go boom and block the ball,” Mellin said. “Let’s take turns shooting and moving the goalie to block.”
During the two-day camp, the children built progressively more difficult robots including a Doodlebot that drew colorful rings and patterns and a soccer kicker.
Once all of the robots were built, the moment of truth arrived: would they work?
“Click on the play button,” Bartlett said.
Across the room, robots sprang into action and jerked left and right across the table to block the paper soccer balls.
A collective gasp and the babble of excited voices followed.
“Oh, awesome!” Hicks said. “Let me try!”
In addition to building robots, the camp included Olympic-themed games, art activities and discussions about careers. Over in the dress-up center, children tried on a variety of costumes and posed in front of a mirror.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Smith asked them. “A scientist?”
Programs like Cloverbud robotics can help steer children toward future careers in the sciences.
“Research suggests children decide quite early in life whether or not science, engineering and technology is something they are interested in pursuing,” Smith said. “We want to provide a fun place for kids to explore and expand their vision for who they can become.”
To learn more about 4-H robotics programs, call the county Extension office.