'Lego' my robot!Cloquet Community Education wrapped up its second week of Lego Robotics Camp last Friday, and the second year of camps. So far, they’ve garnered rave reviews.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Eleven-year-old Lucas Barto couldn’t quite figure out what he wanted to do during last week’s Lego Robotics Camp in Cloquet.
First he made a contraption that could carry his brother’s robot and throw plastic balls at the same time using a side catapult. After that, he made a Lego back massager that he operated with handheld controls. Finally, he made a robot that would race down the hallway as fast as it could go … until it ran into something.
The soon-to-be fifth-grader made all three basic robots by combining Lego bricks, wheels, gears, sensors, motors and microprocessors that can be programmed by hooking the device to a computer.
“I like thinking of all the ways you can build and all the ways they can be useful,” Barto said, showing off his speedy robot Monday morning.
Cloquet Community Education wrapped up its second week of Lego Robotics Camp last Friday, and the second year of camps. So far, they’ve garnered rave reviews.
There’s only one problem with Lego Robotics Camp: It’s addictive.
“We had this one dad who kept coming in to check on his son the first year,” said teacher Kim Peddle. “He finally told us, ‘I’m kind of jealous. This is really cool.’ He ended up staying the entire week and ever since then he’s been volunteering.”
He wasn’t the only parent to get excited about the camp.
Counting the two teachers — Peddle and Steve Mata — plus parent volunteers and robotics-whiz Anthony Rilea (an eighth-grader who started building with Lego robotics in third grade), Peddle said the adult-to-child ratio during camp is very favorable. Plus, each camper gets his or her own kit, because the Cloquet School District and Indian Education program have purchased a number of the kits, which run between $300 and $400 each.
Although the majority of students hail from Cloquet and the Fond du Lac Reservation, others have come from as far away as Duluth, Ely and even out of state (they stayed with grandparents during the week-long camp).
Peddle said last week’s group came up with the most advanced designs yet.
“There is something for kids who like to build, and something for kids who like to program,” said Peddle, who teaches third grade at Washington Elementary during the school year and is also the school’s technology coordinator.
Peddle confesses that she fell in love with “Lego logo” when she was in college — to the point where she would occasionally skip other classes to go program her Legos.
“Sometimes you really have a powerful experience with technology,” she said. “If I can spark that in a kid …”
Peddle explained that — unlike the more usual Lego experience in which a child follows directions to build a precise model — the camp isn’t about producing perfect replicas of existing robots. She shows them a few YouTube videos so they can get an idea of what other kids have done with the robotics kits, then she lets them start thinking, building and evaluating.
It’s about figuring out your own goals and making those a reality. Or not. Failure is fine, as long as the kid gets busy figuring out what went wrong and how to fix it.
“There is a lot of engineering involved, a lot of trial and error,” Peddle explained. “I like to have the kids do a lot of problem solving. They build and if it’s not working exactly the way they want it to, we talk through it.”
Perhaps the toughest thing is getting the kids to break the process down into steps.
“We try to have them start with one thing they really want [the robot] to do,” she said, noting that younger kids tend to try to solve everything at one time. “They’re more successful if they break it down into parts.”
How appropriate for a project made from Legos.
Legos are nothing new. In fact, the tiny plastic bricks have been around since 1949, when Danish inventor Ole Kirk Kristiansen began making toys with some plastic parts, according to the “How Lego is Constructing the Next Generation of Engineers” article in the May issue of Smithsonian magazine.
The first round of Lego programmable robots debuted in 1998 — the next round is set to come out this fall. Called Mindstorms EV3, it is the latest update of a do-it-yourself kit that Lego.com promises will allow “budding Edisons to assemble robots, program them on PCs and Macs, then control them via Bluetooth, downloadable apps and voice commands.”
Legos may have been around in one form or another for more than 60 years, but it seems they have never been more cool — and useful for building better minds — than they are now.
Linnea Barto is mom to Lucas (above) and Jacob, 13. This was the second year both boys attended camp. Mom says the camp is worth the $125 price tag, especially as it falls in the middle of summer, when video games and Minecraft are lulling other boys into a virtual daze.
“It’s problem solving, not just being a passive participant [like TV or many video games],” said Linnea. “I also really like the way they interact with the other kids and the adults there to figure things out. And they find other ways to use the computer.”
Nine-year-old Jack McWilliams was more succinct in his review of the class, which is put on by Cloquet Community Education.
“It was awesome,” McWilliams said.
He’s already planning his return to camp next year.