Robot Springboard @ Drexel University 2014


We held the second annual Robot Springboard Technology Camp @ Drexel University from August 4th to August 8th.  This year 28 middle-school girls participated in the program and once again we were amazed that they were all great!  During the week, everyone learned how to build robots and work with the NXT programming language.  By the end of the week, the participants were doing a terrific job programming their robots to follow lines and complete other complex tasks.


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In addition to the laboratory work, we had lunchtime seminars by women professors working and teaching in STEM fields where they described not only their own career path and reasons for working in technology but also their areas of interest, including advanced robotics and oceanographic analysis, use of computer science analytical techniques with "big data", and human-computer interaction analysis for development of an automated system to help with emergency patient care in pediatric trauma centers.


This summer we added several new activities to our program.  We were fortunate enough to receive two Sphero robotic balls (www.gosphero.com) through NCWIT and Orbotix which we used for our camp.  (Our faculty mentor at Drexel also had a Sphero for participating in a conference on the AP Computer Science curriculum).  The Sphero balls were nice because  the students could control their behavior with simple commands and they had fun using them in an almost game-like fashion. The girls enjoyed working with them during breaks, before lunch, and at snacktime. 

 

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We believe that the Spheros work really well as a tool and resource to introduce students to robotics and programming.  We were excited to learn that a Blockly-type programming language, "Spherely" has been developed and can be used with the Orobotix Spheros robotis.  We think this will give even more power and flexibility to this platform and we are brainstorming ways to introduce it into our BrightStart Robotics workshops for parents and children in kindergarten to third grade.


We also added "Makey Makeys" to our program this year.  Makey Makeys are described as "an invention kit for the 21st century.  Turn everyday objects into touchpads and combine them with the internet.  It's a simple Invention Kit for Beginners and Experts doing art, engineering, and everything inbetween."  We used these as an activity to talk about Human-Computer Interaction and also to try to give our students a small glimpse into the "hardware" side of things.  


This year, we added a visit to the Drexel ExCITe (Expressive and Creative Interactions) Center, where our middle school students were able to talk to and learn from college students working on the HUBO humanoid robots and 3-D printers.  This was very well received and our group had lots of questions on both the HUBO robot and the 3-D printer.  We did this on the last day of our program and we believe that our students had much more insight and appreciation for the technology involved in everything they saw at the ExCITe Center after working with their own robotic and programming tasks for the week. We are considering adding a second visit to the ExCITe Center next year and would hope to include more exposure to 3-D printing as this was something our group demonstrated a lot of interest in it and asked mnay questions about it.


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The last change we made was to have the girls create formal posters for the "Social Solutions Project".  During the week, the girls worked in groups to identify a social or societal problem in their community and then develop a technology based solution for the problem.  They didn't have to actually create the solution, but they needed to research other approaches that had been used and describe how and why their approach was an improvement.  We put these posters up during  the concluding "Technology Showcase", where the participants demonstrate their newly acquired robotic and programming skills to friends and family.  It was a nice way for each team to present and share what they had worked on and it also allowed everyone present to view each of the different solutions.


When we started Robot Springboard, one of our greatest long-term goals was that it could become a self-sustaining program.  We have always hoped that some of the girls who participate in the camps would become interested in technology and eventually become leaders of future Robot Springboard camps.  We are excited that three of our students this year were "returning alumni" from our inaugural program.  We also had a student from our school help as an assistant for the camp this year.  We believe that these four girls can form a core nucleus as the future leaders for Robot Springboard programs.