You might call it coding chaos.
At least that’s how it felt at times, when 15 middle schoolers convened at Saint Leo University for a week of coding camp.
Officially, they were attending the university’s School of Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Data Science (CARDS), a coed robotics camp.
The session, which ran July 18 through July 22, is geared toward youths who are interested in learning about robotics and programming.
Dr. Monika Kiss, interim chair of the Mathematics Department in CARDS, led the camp, which featured campers working in pairs and using Lego Education SPIKE Prime sets.
Campers built “robots” of varying size, shapes and colors and then, after learning the proper coding, programmed them to race, run mazes, and even do a little battle royale.
All in all, it was one crazy-fun camp.
“I love the craziness — I love the creativity (the kids) have with what they build and design,” Kiss said. “This is not an opportunity they usually have on their middle school campuses, so, hopefully, they get a taste of what they can do, whether with engineering science or coding math, or all of the above.
“They’re trying to come up with something new and innovative, and they’re trying to come up with something to impress their parents, especially after spending a whole week at camp on it. I love it!”
Kiss uses the camp to work with younger kids and to give back to the community. Once the camp starts, the kids learn the basics and use their critical thinking skills to “think outside the box,” and to focus on different types of problem-solving.
It involves teamwork, as they and their partner determine what they want to make the robot do, then set out to make it happen.
Several campers said they were there to learn coding.
Dezirae Gardner, an 11-year-old Wesley Chapel resident heading into sixth grade at Weightman Middle, said she’s been interested in coding for a long time and jumped at the chance to attend the camp.
“Robotics has a lot to do with math, and I’m pretty good at math,” Gardner said.
“I wanted to learn coding so I could do the math to program robots. I plan to either go into aero (aeronautics) or astronautics once in college.”
Gardner and her partner, Rosalyn Fletcher, built a robot that could navigate a color-coded maze.
“We programmed it to turn whenever it saw the color blue and speed up whenever it sees the color red,” she said.
Twelve-year-old Gerardo Velez Ruiz, of Tampa, also was there to learn to code, but he enjoyed every aspect of the camp.
“I was able to make new friends, stepped up my coding, and the teachers are very nice and the food is awesome! The materials are extremely advanced and new, too, so it has been a great camp,” he said.
He also said he hoped the camp would help him learn the coding system, Python, which is a high-level, interpreted, general-purpose programming language — and easily one of the most popular.
“I like coding myself, but I’m no expert,” Velez Ruiz said. “This was a good place to start.”
Reanna Collins, a second-grade teacher at West Zephyrhills Elementary, assisted Kiss at the camp. Collin has been helping at the camp since 2018.
“I think it’s great for teaching critical thinking,” Collins said. “They learn how to work together and that it takes patience. It’s definitely a different type of camp than something outdoors or more traditional.”
The camp, held in a fourth-floor lab on the university’s campus, encourages campers to explore possibilities.
“They come in, excited and almost take over (the camp),” Kiss said. “They’ll ask, ‘Can I try this? Can I try that?’ Well, yes! That’s the whole point! Go! Try. Experiment. … There’s no instruction book that can teach them exactly what to do, and they learn through trial and error, which is just like any other robotics programming. It’s not a classroom where you’re graded, it’s much more hands-on and innovative and experimental, and it’s clear kids who attend a camp like this, that’s how they thrive and grow and learn.”
Published August 03, 2022
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