PITTSBURG — Robots have invaded Pittsburg State University and are helping area children put math and science to use.
Adventures in Robotics is a weeklong camp where children use robotics to learn about computer programming, teamwork and problem solving.
The program is directed by Professor of Engineering Technology Randy Winzer. Winzer said the program been going on for over a decade. He helped start camp along with Director of the School of Construction Jim Otter. They wanted to create a summer experience for children aside from athletic camps — something focused on academics.
“We got together and said ‘we’ve got this amazing facility here at the Kansas Technology Center,’” Winzer said. “We decided we’d use it.”
Otter is the director for Construct Your Future, another week-long camp at PSU in the afternoons, but the mornings belong to Winzer and his robots.
The campers use Lego Robotics kits to build many different machines for activities through the week. Winzer said he started using the Lego Robotics because it allows children to quickly build something that moves.
“Even kids that have hardly seen a Lego can build something,” Winzer said. “There’s something intuitive about Legos and with a short time period of five days they work really well.”
Wednesday, campers built Lego cars and worked with measuring speed and velocity, as well as converting measurements between metric and English systems. They also did tests and trial runs before the final competition. They’ve also built small electric motors and are preparing for a large demonstration on Friday.
Campers used a computer to program the cars they built to drive certain distances.
“We’re trying to plant the seed that math is useful for practical things,” Winzer said. “That you can solve real problems with math.”
The other main objective of the camp is to get children accustomed to what working in the technology world is like. Winzer said the importance of teamwork is something they try to instill from the beginning.
“We really want to mimic what happens in industry,” Winzer said. “In industry, you don’t work by yourself. Success or failure often depends on how well folks work together.”
Another real-world skill the children are practicing is brainstorming and creative problem solving. Winzer said he limits the campers on time and materials to complete tasks, just like working a project on deadline.
The camp has 25 children ages 7 to 14 and takes place from 9 a.m to noon Monday through Friday. Next week PSU will have Adventures in Robotics II. Winzer said he assumes children have no prior knowledge in Robotics I, but for Robotics II, they need to be familiar with the system for programming and how to build robots using the kits.
“The second week we dive right in,” Winzer said. “Here’s your robot, here’s your computer, here’s a problem. Solve it.”
Winzer said many of the campers are there just for fun, which he enjoys, but he hopes a few will take a serious interest in the technology industry as a career.
“I have students come back to see me that are now computer programmers or electronics engineers,” Winzer said. “For those few that take an interest, this can really change their life.”
— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.