Thinking outside the bot: Elementary students participate in first robotics camp


Excitement filled the room at the conclusion of the Seymour Community Schools RoboCamp at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School.

That’s because the 19 elementary students who participated in the weeklong pilot elementary camp got to pick a robot to take home.

Camp instructors Jennifer Regruth and Kim Crane made a “Saturday Night Live”-like video announcement at the end of the camp. Students were able to select from the robots they worked with all week.

Students represented each elementary school in the district and were able to choose from Ozo Bots, small programmable robots; Mini Spheros, which are app-enabled robotic balls; EMC wooden robots; and Edison Robots.

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Edison Robots are particularly advanced because they can respond to light and sound, communicate with other robots and avoid obstacles.

Hannah Baker, who will enter the fifth grade at Cortland Elementary School this coming school year, selected a Mini Sphero. She had worked with the robot for the last few days of camp and was operating it with an iPad.

“It moved wherever my finger touches the screen,” she said while demonstrating its use. “There is technology inside that allows it to move and change colors. I haven’t totally figured it out yet, but when it is outside the orb, it won’t move because of its weight, but once you put it in this ball, it can move around.”

Baker said the team worked one day with an Edison Robot to create a miniature version of recycling trucks that would pick up recyclables and deliver them to the custodian’s office.

“We had to program a little map to follow it,” she said.

Baker is not new to robots. She has participated on her school’s robotic team, which is coached by her mother, Jamie.

But the camp added a different element because she didn’t know each of the participants since they were from different schools.

“I enjoyed working with everyone and working as a team and making something to solve a problem or make it do what we want it to,” she said. “And when it doesn’t go our way, we try, try, try and try again.”

Regruth said it was interesting to see students from other schools not knowing each other join together for the camp. She said it didn’t take long for students to connect with each other and begin working.

“It was great to see them immediately connect over whatever they’re working with,” she said. “If you look around the room here, there aren’t a lot of kids from the same school sitting together.”

Baker and her partner, Yuleiny Ruiz, who will be in fifth grade at Margret R. Brown Elementary School, became quick friends as they spent the week learning about different robots and their uses.

“It has been an amazing week,” Ruiz said. “It’s been especially great finding Hannah because we do not go to the same school.”

The camp gave students like Baker and Ruiz a chance to band together and learn teamwork, creativity, science, engineering and innovation, Regruth said.

“A lot of them would try to build a car that would go straight, they would look at it, find out what didn’t work and make a change,” she said. “We’re trying to give them real world experience and explain that when you get out in the real world and something doesn’t work, you have to find another way or take it apart or talk to their buddy and share information.”

Those skills can be beneficial to a generation that has grown accustomed to everything being done at the push of a button, she said.

“These kids are really used to very instant things where you push a button and you get an app,” Regruth said. “So this is good at making them sit back and think for a second and connect something.”

Instructors introduced a new robot in the first hour each session, and students were to explore its use.

Students received challenges in the second hour to apply what they learned about the robots.

“Something like building an obstacle course,” Regruth said. “They would use what they learned in the first hour to complete a challenge.”

Regruth has helped with the middle school camp twice before and organized the elementary camp with the help of Crane and Shawn Mahoney, the corporation’s technology integrator.

Regruth is entering her 28th year of teaching and said at times, the roles can be reversed at robotic camps.

“I’m amazed how little the teacher has to be the expert,” she said. “If you can provide a little ‘how to’ things, the kids take off with it, and there is no fear.”

Students also have the ability to think about the robots’ uses that the instructors had not considered in the past.

“I’ve worked with robots before with my students, and kids at this camp are coming up with things that I didn’t see before,” Regruth said. “Someone in the group will suggest something, and then they’ll go off of that, and it’s amazing.”

Many of the students have strengths in certain areas, and Regruth and Crane relied on those students to help share their knowledge with others. That made more balanced teams, too, Regruth said.

“There are two of us and 19 of them, so if they’re an expert on a certain type, then they go into that group to help,” she said.

The ability to share that information with peers has built confidence, too, Regruth said.

“I’ve seen confidence grow from people that came in and didn’t know anyone else,” she said. “Then they’re helping and talking about what they know.”

Baker said her mother and father, Michael, are both engineers, and she relies on their help a lot with robots.

When she feels bored at home, her mother encourages an engineering attitude and tells her to try to solve a problem.

“And that’s what I do,” she said. “They’ve always helped me.”

With a new robot, new friendship and a week of learning, Ruiz and Baker were both ready to continue learning about robots.

“I have a phone and already have the app,” Ruiz said.

“Me, too,” Baker said after the two gave each other a hug.

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