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Southside students preparing for high-tech future with robotics camp

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By Josh Shepherd, News writer

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Recognizing that the design, manufacture and programming of drones are the next big thing in advanced global technology, teachers at Southside Elementary School are introducing their fourth grade students to The Robot. For real.

On Friday and Saturday, March 28 and 29, a group of fourth graders will get an opportunity to build and program a basic robot courtesy of a math and science grant program based out of the Bourbon County School system.

Three Southside teachers, fourth grade teacher Judy Clevinger, Mary Heimlich, third grade, and Kara Mattox, second grade, are all participants in the grant program. They are being trained to introduce the field of Robotics to elementary school children.

Their work will culminate in a special two-day “Robotics Camp” in which teams of fourth graders will put together and program their own robot, or drone, to perform a basic set of commands.

Tom Mills, an educational technology specialist at Bourbon County, is providing the educator-training. 

In addition to the training, each participating teacher received a kit for a simple, programmable robot.

Not only is the upcoming Robot Camp a first for Clevinger, Heimlich and Mattox to teach, it is a first for any Harrison County Elementary School, Clevinger said. 

“This has been one very big learning experience for us,” Clevinger said. “It has been very exciting to work with this technology and see all the potential applications for it.”

The robots are advanced Lego toys. Each comes equipped with several types of programmable sensors. “These are the heart of the educational experience in this project - to teach the children how to use the software to program the sensors,” Clevinger explained.

Even though it is the nature of Legos to inspire creativity, the camp will ask the children to follow the model directions and each team build the same robot.

They will then program the robots to move in a straight line. “Once we accomplish this, we’ll let the kids explore programming the sensors to turn the robot in other directions.”

There will be a demonstration of their success on Saturday, she said.

Thanks to the grant and the enthusiastic cooperation of teachers at Harrison County Middle and High School, the teachers have managed to get six robot kits in all.

It was recommended that the project starts with fourth grade students. They are advanced enough with computers to comprehend the material and, hopefully, it will pave the way for a more advanced fifth grade camp next year. 

Due to the limited number of kits available, the first “Robot Camp” at Southside will have to be small. The kits are expensive and there is just no practical way to include every student. 

However, the teacher team made the selection process a practical learning opportunity. Students interested in working with the robots had to apply for one of the positions, supply reference sheets and request recommendations from their teachers.

The first camp participants were selected from these applications.

“We hope this class will pave the way for robot camps at every elementary school in Harrison County,” Clevinger said.

There is already work being done in robotics and programming in the middle school and grant applications are being submitted to offer an advanced class in robotics at the high school.

 But children have to be introduced to [robot/drone] programming and technology, Clevinger said, and this  math and science project is a very good starting point.