In the Niagara Falls Power Vista Visitors Center, robots maneuvered around obstacles, moved up and down ramps, threw balls through miniature basketball hoops, and scooped up orange disks that they then pushed across a grid. The demonstrations were part of the culminating event at Niagara University’s Robotics Camp, which took place June 27-30, 2022.
Students entering grades kindergarten through eighth participated in hands-on activities that utilized the practical application of science, technology, engineering, and math as they learned how to design, build, and code robots.
The program, now in its 14th year, is intended to give a diverse group of children access to STEM and increase their awareness, interest, and confidence in those fields while expanding the STEM knowledge and experience of current teaching professionals and preservice teachers. The program is funded by a grant from National Grid.
This year’s camp focused on robotics, a topic of great interest to the children, noted Ronni McGrath, Elementary STEM coordinator for the Niagara Falls City School District and camp director. Teachers from the district led activities that taught coding and engineering concepts and vital 21st century skills such as teamwork, collaboration, communication, and problem solving. STEM activities were complemented by sessions that focused on literature and physical education, as well.
On the last day, teams of students from LaSalle Preparatory School, who recently competed against their peers from around the world in the VEX Robotics World Championship, presented a robotics demonstration, and the 80 campers showcased the work they had done throughout the week.
Daevin Booker, a fifth grade student at Harry F. Abate Elementary School in Niagara Falls, enjoyed the Sphero Sports Day, which challenged the campers to program a Sphero robot to complete specific tasks. His classmate, Dylan Swartz, liked building the robots.
Third graders Jovani Rotella, a student at 79th Street School in Niagara Falls, and his camp partner, Colton Cook, a Hyde Park Elementary School student, built codes to make their robot change colors and move. Jovani liked racing the robots, while Colton liked learning how to program them. “And making friends!” he added.
“We are so thankful to National Grid for supporting our initiative of bringing STEM opportunities to the children of our community,” McGrath said. “Many parents comment about how much their children love our camp and want to return year after year. The theme of robotics and coding is critically important, as being fluent in the language of coding is likely to be a part of many future careers—and, as with learning any language, an early start is critical. In addition to providing a valuable experience for children, the second part of our program is to provide opportunities for practicing teachers to expand their own knowledge and skills in the field of STEM. Each year we impact 15 veteran teachers and many more NU teacher candidates.”