- Associated Press - Monday, June 16, 2014

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Just because school’s out doesn’t mean the math and science learning ends.

The eighth annual Ready, Set, Robots - a camp for children in grades seven through 12 - had its first session last week at the Indiana University Cyberinfrastructure Building.

A second session is scheduled for Thursday and Friday of this week. The camp is put on by the Indiana University Pervasive Technology Institute.

Twenty-seven children formed groups to program Lego Mindstorm robots, giving them abilities to move in certain directions and speeds, avoiding walls and recognizing color. The software used to program the robots is designed for Lego Mindstorms and can be downloaded from Lego’s website.

“They have to program every little thing,” George Turner, chief systems architect, told The Herald-Times (http://bit.ly/1kXUjhD ).

Turner said the Lego system is used because the programming language is graphical and uses click-and-drag abilities, making coding a more visual experience for the campers.

Turner said that at first, a lot of students are wary and take a while to get into the programming.

“It’s interesting watching the kids,” Turner said. “A lot of times, they don’t work as a cohesive unit, and in an hour or so, there comes a point where the kids have an epiphany, after they do something, that they can make a brick into something.”

At the end of the second day of camp, students display their programming at the Robot Grand Challenge, a simulation of a mission on Mars where the robot must find “minerals,” represented by colors in an arena that are recognized by the robot’s color sensor, and find and touch the robot’s mother ship. Teams are given five minutes to run their designed program for their robot.

Turner said there has been increasing interest ever since the camp’s conception, when it was only a one-day experience. He added that the camp is designed for junior high and high school students because they already have the mathematical and scientific foundations for programming at that age.

Aside from programming skills, Turner said the camp tries to integrate communication skills in small groups and in public speaking by explaining their robot’s program, as well as sharing turns programming and integrating ideas.

Rising Bloomington High School North freshman Thea Showalter attended Ready, Set, Robots for the first time this summer after hearing about it from her friends. Thea, who took programming classes in middle school, said her favorite part of the camp was meeting new people and learning from their ideas.

“I would definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in robots and programming,” she said. “It’s a great place to start.”

Students who attend do not need any prior knowledge in programming.

Pervasive Technology Institute also puts on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics camps in Bloomington and Minority Engineering Advancement Programs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Both camps feature robots.

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