Minding the educational gap during the summer months, there are no shortage of learning opportunities put on by local libraries and other institutions to make sure students don't regress before the start of the next school.
Newton High School's RaileRobotics team is doing its part to help in those efforts this week, teaching elementary students the building blocks (or, more aptly, bricks) of robotics at its annual Lego Camp held at Sunset Elementary.
Each morning, the campers (ages 8 through 12) work in groups to design, build, program and test different robots with the assistance of the NHS team members — with each group's robot charged with completing a variety of tasks. On Friday, the final day of camp, teams of five will be judged be a former RaileRobotics member based on their ability to successfully complete those tasks.
It's an experience that current RaileRobotics team captain Reid Graber had the opportunity to be a part of when he was in elementary school and he admitted steered him towards participating in the high school program.
"This is probably what got me into the whole robotics scene because my mom was like, 'hey, we should go try that,' and I loved it," Graber said.
Just a few days in, some new campers are getting similar ideas. Third grade student Rocco Ramos said his brother convinced him to take part this year and so far he has had a fun experience learning how to program the robots — something he may consider continuing with the RaileRobotics team once he reaches high school.
On top of teaching elementary students the basics of programming and designing robots, volunteer organizer Kenna Graber (a new teacher mentor for USD 373, and Reid's mother) noted there are so many general benefits she sees being provided to participants that will help students in the classroom and beyond.
"I think the biggest thing is problem-solving, communication and working collaboratively. For me, those are the three key takeaways," Kenna Graber said. “Not only do all of these skills benefit them when they go back to the classroom in the fall, but it benefits them when they interact with other people in the community. As they grow older they are going to need these skills as they go out into the work world.”
"What I see them getting from this is kind of like a hands-on experience. It's kind of how a little kid sees physics — these parts work this way, the Lego can only do this many things," Reid Graber said. "If they get so much experience with a bunch of Legos engineering or building a robot it kind of just translates into how they see like, if they can build a robot like this can they build a robot like we make? It's just a huge confidence builder."
Like Ramos, many of the campers are excited to learn about robotics and have that hands-on involvement. That's something both Kenna and Reid said they love to see, as even some of the most tentative attendees will quickly latch on to the fundamentals of robotics.
Kenna noted one of this year's first-time attendees dove in and started programming on the second day of camp — and showed a clear enthusiasm taking on that task.
"After you kind of break into their comfort zone, you just see their eyes kind of widen after a few days," Reid Graber said. "You can just tell that they're extremely into it."
"We have several new kids ... they come in and they're not quite sure and they're a little timid," Kenna Graber said. "By the end of the week, they're really outgoing with the groups and you can just see how excited they get."
Putting that ownership of the experience into the hands of the elementary students is something Kenna Graber sees as crucial, allowing them take part in all the steps of the robotics process and she noted participants are always excited to show off their robots in action on the final day of the camp.
For that final day of camp, parents are welcome to attend to watch the exhibition that will be held from 8 to 11 a.m. Friday at Sunset Elementary.