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West Valley City Journal

Robotics Camp Engineers Education, Fun for Kids

Aug 30, 2016 02:59PM ● By Travis Barton

Avery Carpenter builds a “cobra” of Popsicle sticks during the Junk Drawer Robotics Camp at West Valley Library. The camp taught kids about different aspects of engineering. –Travis Barton

They may not design robots, but kids at the Junk Drawer Robotics Camp built catapults and cars.
The Salt Lake County Library system has been offering free STEM camps this summer where kids and teenagers learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics. West Valley Library played host to a Junk Drawer Robotics Camp on Aug. 8.
“It’s junk drawer robotics so it’s the basics of robotics,” said Melissa Ivie, a Utah State University student and volunteer counselor who helps run the STEM camps.
From toddlers to teenagers, kids learned how to make stick bombs with Popsicle sticks; catapults with string, Popsicle sticks, plastic cups, bottle caps and clips; and little cars with small motors and batteries. Basically any items you might find in a junk drawer.
Ivie said each camp has a different theme, this one is about engineering and it had four stages.
In the beginning of the camp, kids learned about design and mechanical engineering by making a catapult.
“There was paper everywhere,” Ivie joked.
Making the stick bombs, where Popsicle sticks are pressed together in a variety of designs before “exploding” all over, teaches kids about intricate designs and following instructions.
The third stage sees them apply logic through a programming game. One kid was identified as a “robot” and had to follow the instructions of the “engineers.”
The camp ends with the kids building something robotic themselves, a small car, by using all the items that would be ideally found in a “junk drawer” plus small motors and batteries.
Though the library system provides the supplies, the volunteers come through 4-H, a community organization that runs throughout the country but the Utah extension goes through Utah State University.
“It’s this whole community program to help promote stuff like this for kids,” Ivie said.
Ivie, a computer science major, said she jumped at the chance when she was asked to run the library camps for the summer.
“Part of it is just sharing my passion,” she said.
Ivie said a lot of kids just don’t have the proper exposure to STEM so kids think it’s a difficult thing to do. In one of Ivie’s camps she helps kids make a space invaders type of game, which they inevitably love.
“I love to teach that one because there are so many kids afterward who walk away like, ‘Oh, I can do electrical engineering, I love programming, this is so cool,’ and it’s not something they would have thought of before,” Ivie said. “It makes me happy when they walk away saying stuff like that because it’s one of my passions.”
For the kids, it offers them the opportunity to stimulate their minds during the summer.
“It helps us get our minds ready for school starting up again,” Lucas Carpenter, 16, said. Lucas has attended a few STEM camps this summer with his brothers Avery, 13, and Corbin, 10.
Avery said he learned a lot about problem solving during the robotics camp, something Ivie said is essential to the camp.
“That’s basically what engineering is,” Ivie said.
Becky Carpenter, the boys’ mother, said this camp was perfect for her boys, especially Avery.
“[Avery’s] constantly making like a solar powered thing in the driveway, he’ll probably go into something like engineering,” Carpenter said.
The camp, Carpenter said, is a good experience for Avery.
“It gets him away from the video games in the summer and moves him in the direction of what he’s already inclined to do, it’s awesome,” she said.
Lucas and Corbin both said they enjoyed the exploding Popsicle sticks. One iteration, called the “cobra,” saw them make a five-foot trail of sticks pressed together, which then exploded when one stick was removed.
“I’ve never been able to do that right before,” Lucas said.