As part of Southco’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) outreach, engineers from our corporate headquarters in Concordville, PA visited the neighboring Garnet Valley Middle School in August to provide their engineering insight to kids enrolled in the school’s Robotics Camp.
The camp, which is in its third year, is offered annually to 6-8th grade level students who are interested in learning how to design and program robots. Using LEGO® Mindstorm Robotics Kits and software, campers are given the opportunity to build their own robot and program it to complete tasks, with the goal of participating in a robotics competition on the last day of camp.
Southco engineers Christopher Waite, Zach Peters and Ron Magidson joined the camp for a few days to assist kids with a variety of tasks from building the robots to programming them. Using their engineering knowledge, they helped beginner-level campers learn the ins-and outs of the robotics kits and software, as well as expert-level kids who were learning to use Carnegie Mellon’s robotC software to program virtual robots.
The accompanying programming software, known as NXT, uses a detachable, computerized port which acts as the robot’s “brain.” Once the students finished building their robots, they then connected their ports to a computer to program their robots to accomplish a variety of tasks.
In order to complete the tasks, the robots were outfitted with sensors during the building process, which react to light, sound and touch to control their movements and actions. These sensors allowed the students to program the desired direction of travel as well as control the power level and duration of operation and tasks to be completed, such as lifting and moving objects.
Although it may sound complex, the robots and accompanying software are designed to make learning about robotics fun by simplifying programming language and incorporating the use of LEGOs, according to one of the camp’s coaches, Carolyn Kunze.
“The software is user-friendly but they get the general logic of programming,” said Kunze, who when not running the camp with co-coach Rebecca Brown, is also an 8th grade science teacher at the middle school.
Southco actively works with the Garnet Valley School District as well as other local schools in the area on STEM programs to promote future engineering careers and gives presentations to students throughout the school year. Southco is part of the Delaware Valley STEM Workforce, which is comprised of professionals in the engineering and technology fields, and works with schools and universities to develop more rigorous, standards-aligned math and science curricula to enhance the learning experience of students.
Students exposed to STEM programs benefit through better prepared teachers, opportunities to learn more about rewarding careers in these fields and the ability to reinforce key learning concepts through hands-on activities and workshops.