Robotics Camp teaches lifelong skills, ignites passion in youth

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By April S. Kelley

Liberty Hill Intermediate School’s first summer robotics camp wrapped up with three-minute mock competitions, but the lifelong skills, interests, bonds created and memories made are just the beginning for these students.

Liberty Hill Independent School District Lead Digital Learning Coach Jennifer King said the summer robotics camp is not an official school activity, but rather an activity put together by Liberty Hill educators.

“We wanted to introduce robotics to the students who haven’t had a chance yet,” King said. “It allows some of the kids who are in robotics during the school year to get a little more practice, while igniting new interests in others.”

King said the robotics camp uses LEGO Mindstorms EV3 robots, the newest version put out by the company. The older version, used during the school year, was the LEGO Mindstorms NXT robots.

“I think it’s all about problem solving and teamwork,” King said. “It increases the kids’ higher-level thinking skills.”

The robotics camp focuses on global problems, King said.

“This session we are talking about space, satellites specifically, because it is a topic of discussion in the news right now,” she said. “We pick something that has more of a global-thinking element for the kids. I create the missions for the kids using some of the same themes the Texas Computer Educational Association would have come up with. The first mission was environmental, like recycling and composting. This one is about space and satellites.”

King said she loves to see kids excited about robotics.

“I like to see the kids excited during the summer about learning something new,” she said. “It’s just neat to see the young engineering minds start to form.”

A competition is held every January, put on by the TCEA, and this camp introduces kids to robotics so they can decide whether or not they would like to pursue participating in the robotics program during the school year and compete in the competitions.

“Last year, we had three teams,” King said. “Out of the entire region, and I think this is a big deal in our area, we took three of the four spots that went to state competitions.”

Two high school students – incoming freshman Ryan Levee and Tom Stefanich – aided King and teachers in helping with the summer program, she said. 

“Three years ago, I started a robotics program at Liberty Hill Intermediate and Ryan was in sixth grade at the time,” she said. “He did robotics all three years, and now he is continuing robotics into high school. It’s exciting to see him do that. He’s helping to coach the younger kids as well, and he isn’t doing this for credit hours or anything, but just because he likes robotics.”

Levee said he loves robotics and looks forward to a future working in computers.

“Robotics gives kids a way to express themselves with creativity that other programs do not allow them to do,” Levee said. “You get to build the robot how you want it, and you can make it look however you want.”

He said he finds it rewarding to help younger children learn a new passion in robotics.

“I love when they have that moment of realization, where they are like, ‘Whoa, I built this, I made this work,’” Levee said.

Stefanich, another incoming freshman and assistant in the summer program, said he likes to bond while sharing robotics with the younger students. He, too, hopes to work in technology in the future.

“I feel like I get to bond with the younger kids and get to help prepare them for the school year,” he said. “I like to do stuff with the robots. I think it’s awesome and really cool.”

His favorite moment so far was seeing his younger brother share his interest in robotics.

“When my little brother and his friends finished their robot and it worked, it made me happy to see them accomplish that,” he said.

King said she hopes to be able to have another camp next summer.

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