AMSTERDAM — The chance to go back to school for a week during summer vacation made the decision to attend the Greater Amsterdam School District’s Lego robotics camp an easy one for Emma Araujo.
“Summer is kind of boring,” said Araujo while making adjustments to the robot she was working on with Errol Bailey at McNulty Elementary School on Tuesday.
The incoming sixth graders were tasked with making Lego robots they would race against their classmates’ controlled by computer coding.
Although the students previously learned some basic coding, instructor Rachel Barnett was impressed with how quickly they mastered programming the robots.
“Yesterday was the first day and they asked to go off on their own,” Barnett said.
The real challenge for students was building racing robots that would have to hop across the finish line instead of using wheels.
Araujo and Bailey quickly discarded attempts that didn’t work and tweaked their successful design to optimize their hopping robot that was propelled forward by rapidly turning forearms.
“It’s going pretty fast,” said Bailey, who wanted to attend the week-long camp to try something different this summer.
Across the room, incoming sixth grader Xaviah Kamraj thought adjustments to the front legs moving his robot and tail section keeping it balanced would make it competitive in the forthcoming race.
The camp combining his interests in Lego building and computer coding quickly attracted Kamraj. A passion for creating already has him considering a career in programming as a game designer one day.
“You can make whatever you want,” Kamraj said.
The fun mash-up of Lego building with STEM-based learning quickly overwhelmed the district’s plans to cap camp attendance at just 100 elementary and middle school students.
“The permission slips kept pouring in,” said Nancy Rad, principal at Barkley Elementary School and administrator for the summer program.
Knowing they couldn’t turn eager kids away, the school district instead bought additional Lego robotics kits and brought 10 teachers on board to offer three week-long sessions attended by over 300 students this month.
“Everyone wants to be here, they love what they are doing,” Rad said. “They are so engaged. You walk in sometimes and they don’t even notice you.”
Incoming fourth graders were quietly focused on building Lego taxicabs and performing the proper computer coding to signal the vehicles to begin driving around in another room on Tuesday.
Squeals of joy erupted from the small groups of students when the car headlights came on and the wheels started turning.
Teachers Ashley Flansburg and Tyler Gleason said students keen to make their Lego robots come alive were quickly picking up the basics of coding.
“Once they found out they could actually do it for the first time they were ready, they were pumped,” Gleason said. “Their confidence is through the roof.”
Watching the cab she built with Nirvannah Lander start up, Allison St. Jock wistfully wished she could use the Lego robotics kits at home to make her own building blocks move on their own.
Nearby, Destinie Ressy and Shelby Vogel achieved their summer goals of having fun with friends while doing something cool when their taxi started rolling across a desk.
With the popular summer program drawing to a close, Rad hopes the district will offer Lego robotics clubs throughout the school year and another camp expanding skills next summer.
“We need to do more of this,” Rad said. “This is academic, but hands-on fun.”
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.