Seymour robotics camp goes virtual this year


Once eLearning ended for Seymour Community Schools, Zoe Wischmeier didn’t turn in her Chromebook just yet.

She still had some work to do.

The corporation allowed the 59 middle school students and 17 elementary students participating in a virtual robotics camp to keep their devices since this year’s camp couldn’t be conducted in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Each day the first week of this month, Wischmeier and the other students turned on their Chromebooks to receive instructions and tasks for the day with their robots. They could chat with each other and their instructors, and they also had an opportunity to interact with a couple of local industry representatives.

In the end, the students still received their fill of robotics and learned a lot. Plus, they got to keep their robots.

“I liked the virtual camp this summer because the teachers were always there for you during the day on Google Meet,” said Wischmeier, who will be a fifth-grader at Emerson Elementary School in the fall.

“I also liked that we were still able to have a summer camp even though we weren’t in person,” she said. “It was different because the teacher couldn’t actually touch our projects to help, but it was nice because I had my dad here that could help when I needed it. I learned that even in times we can’t be in person, engineers still have a job to do and can do it virtually.”

Wischmeier said she chose to participate in the camp because she did the VEX IQ competition during the school year and it was a lot of fun. She said she appreciates all of the help she received from the camp instructors.

Her father, Jeremy Wischmeier, appreciated the opportunity for the kids, too.

“It was a great opportunity for the kids, especially the way the school year ended and a lot of summer activities being canceled,” he said.

As in years past, the camp was funded by Jackson County Industrial Development Corp.

When the organization realized the students were OK’d to keep their Chromebooks, plans for the camp moved forward.

“It was just the momentum to keep it going, and we had the school buy-in for it,” said Jackie Hill, workforce partnership director for JCIDC. “JCIDC funds the summer robotics anyway, so it’s just, ‘Let’s redirect that funding and make it happen this way.’”

She and Jody Deckard, workforce coordinator for JCIDC, already had been talking about the future of the organization’s activities, from robotics to career fairs to senior mock interviews.

“If you look at the JCIDC partnership, our career awareness activities are hands-on,” Hill said. “Jody and I have been brainstorming, depending on how school gets back (in the fall), we have to start being creative to be able to keep the momentum going with all of this.”

Shawn Mahoney, technology integration specialist for Seymour Community School Corp., said the robotics camp in the past was at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School and Seymour Middle School to coincide with the summer meal programs.

“Having the students in a classroom brought out more communication and collaboration than virtual, but we were thrilled to still have camp this year,” he said.

Each day, students accessed their lessons online and shared their discoveries in a video, Mahoney said.

“While in-person instruction has many benefits, the nature of an online experience records many moments for viewing anytime and anywhere,” he said. “The best of both would be to meet in person and still create content to capture the experience digitally.”

The elementary camp instructors were Jennifer Regruth and Meghan Fleenor, while Amy Miller and Aimee Rigsby led the middle school camp.

“Each day, the students and instructors would start with a video chat on Google Meet discussing the daily challenge and review of what they worked on the day before,” Mahoney said.

“The elementary camp students were provided with a Little Bits kit. The students made a robot claw, a proximity sensing robot bat and an automatic trash chomper,” he said. “The middle school students worked with a micro:bit to code various tasks such as digital games, directional finder, magic 8 ball and even Morse Code communicator. The middle school group also made custom computer interfaces with a Makey Makey kit.”

Mahoney said it was amazing to see the creativity and enthusiasm from all of the students.

“It was my hope that students could still have access to our wonderful instructors and participate,” he said. “I wanted the students and instructors to have fun and keep the momentum going for next year. They far surpassed my expectations.”

Every day, he said the students were eager to participate and be kids.

“I am so thankful JCIDC supported our camp and encouraged us to continue,” Mahoney said. “So many events our students look forward to have been canceled. I am proud of how our community, staff and students joined together to have a wonderful experience.”

Seeing so many kids interested in robotics is great for Mahoney.

“As a kid, I loved to tinker, dream and build,” he said. “It makes me smile to see so many youth with many of the same interests. They have seeds of greatness, and I see loving and caring adults helping them grow. It is very humbling to witness.”

Hill participated in the sessions each day and was impressed.

“It’s so cool to listen to these kids, and they feed off of each other because they’ll talk about a problem and there will be a kid that says, ‘Have you tried this?’” she said. “They are interacting with teach other talking about their problems. They were very intearctive, very outgoing.”

She also liked the interaction between the kids and the two local industry guests, Jonathan Gill of Cummins Seymour Engine Plant and Matt Meyers of Excel Manufacturing Inc.

They talked about their jobs, what their industries do and how robotics is used.

Gill, VPI manufacturing engineer for the Seymour plant, talked about micro:bit and how it’s used in education and is similar to controllers used at Cummins.

“Amazing how far technology has come that something like a micro:bit can be passed out as an education tool,” Gill said. “Very powerful skills to learn at such a young age.”

Eli Bukowski, who is going into fifth grade at Emerson Elementary in the fall, said he participated in the camp because he had done the Lego robotics camp through Purdue Extension Jackson County the past two summers and didn’t want to miss out.

“My favorite thing about the virtual camp was that I still got to see my friends and teachers, but I liked that I got to have time on my own to work on my projects at home,” Bukowski said. “Then once I was done, I got to meet back with the class and show off my work.”

He said he learned problem-solving skills by working on things by himself, and he appreciates the efforts of the instructors.

His mother, Andi Bukowski, said the instructors did an amazing job and were so helpful.

“Eli had a great time, and I was absolutely amazed at how creative he can be,” Andi said. “I’m not sure I would have gotten a full understanding of that if I hadn’t been able to participate some in this virtual class, so getting word out on that is so important.”

Hill said the virtual camp was a trial run to see what JCIDC can do with its activities. Even if school goes back to normal in the fall, having a virtual option for their events will be a bonus, she said.

“We’re being proactive because we can’t wait until the schools make the decision in what they are going to do,” she said. “It’s not going to replace everything, but we don’t want to have a lapse in our work going forward. We built up this momentum, we have schools on board, so how can we keep it going?”

Mahoney said he is always encouraged by the can-do attitude of JCIDC.

“Jackie and Jody are always there asking how they can help and encourage,” he said. “With the many challenges facing education, I am comforted to know that our area industry is close beside us willing, ready and able to help our students and staff be the best they can be. I am thankful to be part of such a wonderful community.”

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