LEGO camps teach children engineering skills

The MU LEGO Robotics Camps are led by students in the College of Engineering.

As a child grows up, he or she is introduced to the wonderful world of LEGOs. These small and colorful plastic bits can be combined together to create anything, including robots. At the College of Engineering, kids learn to create mechanized, moving beings through LEGO camp.

The MU LEGO Robotics Camps, led by Satish Nair, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, were created after the success of a grant program. According to an article on the College of Engineering website, the program was proposed five years ago to the National Science Foundation.

The goal of the original program was to train engineering graduate students by working with Columbia public schools and mid-Missouri schools in order to make science and math more appealing to younger children. Ten LEGO kits and equipment were provided to each school.

The LEGO camps were an idea that stemmed from the original program as a way for the students to continue their work and at the same time allow the program to be self-sustaining. The camps attracted students from first to ninth grade from all over Missouri and they used the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT series to create robots, which is the project at the end of the camp.

Doctoral student Sandeep Pendyam talked about the number of camps in each semester.

“There are usually eight introduction camps and two advanced camps and these are all two-day camps, because it is during the school year,” Pendyam said. “In the summer, there is no school so we have three-day camps in the summer.”

Of the two camps that are shown, there are more introduction camps, because in order to attend the advanced camps students need to finish the introduction camps first.

Graduate student Kalyani Upendram is a camp coordinator and helped Pendyam organize LEGO kits for the camp. She explained how the introduction camp works.

“In the introductory camp, students are introduced to the LEGO robots, how they work and how each movement relates to the human body,” Upendram said.

The students are taught how to program their own robots. They learn the importance of the human senses when handling the different robot sensors.

Upendram explained the advanced camps were more difficult for students, because all the sensors of the robot were used and the programming of the robot was much more difficult.

Tina Balser, a recruitment coordinator for the College of Engineering, said the benefits of the camp include the interaction of students with small design projects, teamwork and problem-solving situations.

“The idea of trial and error in each class is encouraged because it gives the students the opportunity to try and try again,” Balser said.

Pendyam said the students have a lot of fun during the sessions.

“They are very interested in the program and even the parents see that their kids are very interested in it when they talk to their children,” Pendyam said. “About 70 percent of the students who attend the introductory camps will take part in the advanced camps when they come back.”

Balser said the program was important because it provided an early exposure of science and math to young children.

“Learning about science, math and engineering is important and the LEGO camps are a good way to expose them to the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs that are in high schools and colleges,” Balser said.

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