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Norwin School District's Winter Robotic Camps are set

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 10:26 p.m.

The Norwin School District's most recent robotics camp made quite an impact on Chad Sanderson.

Chad, 13, got himself a robot for Christmas so he could continue to test his programming skills that he learned at camp and in his industrial technology class at school.

Students will get another chance to participate with a winter robotics camp from Feb. 23 to March 23.

“We decided to offer two different levels of camp this year,” said Michael Choby, assistant principal and STEM program coordinator for Norwin High School. The experienced camp will incorporate a “Star Wars Challenges” theme and is most appropriate for students who have attended robotics camp before or used the robots in technology education classes.

The beginner camp will feature a space-mission adventure for students with no previous robotics experience or those who think they need to expand their programming skills. The experienced camp will run from 9 a.m. to noon, and the beginner camp is set for 1 to 4 p.m.

These camps will use Lego NXT robotics kits, which are developed for middle school learners by Lego Education.

“We work with people from Lego to get ideas for the camps,” Choby said.

Each robotics kit includes supplies, computer software, sensors and “basically everything you need to build and program a robot,” Choby said.

The camps are led by Brad Zundel, eighth-grade science teacher, and Matt Mincucci, Norwin technology instructor and head of the Robotics Team and Robotics Club.

The beginner camp is based on curriculum designed by Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy. Students will build one robot over the course of the camp and challenges are preloaded onto computers, Mincucci said. Because the experienced camp had advanced out of curriculum from CMU's Robotics Academy, Zundel and Mincucci designed all the programming and challenges themselves.

“The beginner camp builds one robot, while this camp will build four different robots. The kids are really excited about it,” Mincucci said.

Chad, now a seventh grader at Norwin Middle School, attended a summer robotics camp last year.

“It was a very enjoyable experience. It was fun to learn about programming and building the robots,” Chad said.

The robot obstacle courses and challenges were especially fun and helped to build his confidence, Chad said.

“You had to program your robot to go forward, pick up a ball and put it into a volcano. It could get really challenging. At times, you had to reprogram and try again,” he said.

Norwin Middle School offers technology-education courses for seventh- and eighth-graders as well as use of the Technology Education Lab and the opportunity to join the robotics club and team. The same kinds of Lego NXT robots used at camp are also used in the classes.

“Robotics camps are good because they enable the kids to use the skills they've learned in more creative and innovative ways,” Choby said.

“This year, we used Lego WeDo robot kits in our third grade classrooms for the first time,” he said. Lego developed the WeDo kits for elementary learners ages 7 through 12.

The teachers were trained by Lego, and the reports that Choby has received back from teachers and students have been good.

Choby said he hopes to use the WeDo kits to expand the robotics camps for younger grades in the future.

Both girls and boys attend the camps, although more boys seem to be interested in robotics, Mincucci said. “We are always trying to encourage more girls,” he said.

Mandy Fields Yokim is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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