Tips for Hosting a Middle School Summer Robotics Club

Tips for Hosting a Middle School Robotics Club this Summer

Extend robotics learning into this year’s summer fun. Robotics clubs for middle school students build on classroom creativity and present student with more complex challenges. Summer camps will bring out the best in students, both those who are stimulated in a traditional classroom and other students that need to move in order to learn. After-school robotics activities boost students’ confidence in designing, building, and programming their robots while giving them the freedom to try new things.

Middle school camp instructors can also take advantage of a more informal learning environment. Lesson plans will be a combination of drawing on students’ previous knowledge (household robots they interact with everyday, computer programs, video games) and their natural curiosities about all that robots can do. Though instructors will approach each day’s lesson with some structure and organization, they should also allow for students to help dictate where future lessons lead. What do students have questions about? What are they most interested in building? How can they work together in teams to accomplish these tasks?

All of these questions can be easily answered in a middle school summer robotics club setting. Here are some tips to help your students make the most of camp this year.

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#1 Design Age-Appropriate Activities

At the middle school level, students are looking for a challenge. Their science classes delve into more complex concepts that call for independent thinking. While students in this age group may still need to be guided through each session’s daily objectives, instructors should take a step back in team critical thinking tasks.

Summer camp leaders should make a point of building on the physics and engineering skills that students have been learning about during the school year as an introduction to the beginning of each class. At the end of the day, students should feel like they’ve gained a deeper understanding of these concepts through trial and error problem-solving.

Put it to Use: Likely, students have learned in their regular science class about elastic potential energy. In fact, it’s a property used in robotics construction all the time. This is the perfect robotics introductory activity that also introduces students to each other in teams and builds on teamwork skills.

The Catapult Launch Activity is specifically intended for 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade students. Using everyday items—plastic spoons, ping pong balls, rubber bands and soda cans students will compete to devise the catapult that can launch the ping pong ball the farthest. Students will also be judged on the distance, power, and accuracy of their ping pong. In the process, students will consider engineering, geometry, and ratios as they think about the angle of their launch, for example.

Engage and Challenge Students

The best way to make robotics fun for students is to give them a real challenge. Middle school students are ready to work hard, and conversely, will tune out if they feel tasks are too easy.

Middle school robotics club instructors can promote their students’ learning engagement in a variety of ways. Primarily, instructors should consistently ask their students questions at the start of each session which will provoke imagination and critical thinking. The idea is that instructors set student groups up for independent experimentation and trial and error brainstorming solutions. When students are given an obstacle and the tools needed to overcome it, they’ll build their confidence in all areas of STEM.

Put it to Use: Challenging students to create turns on their imaginative juices. Middle school students today are better-versed in the world of computers than any previous generation, meaning computer programming is something they’re already familiar with, even if they don’t know it.

Robotics camp leaders can put their students’ computer programming skills and teamwork abilities to the test with many group-based activities. There are many computer programming apps on a PC or smartphone that are available for kids at low or no cost. Many of these programs combine engineering and coding skills as students must use building blocks, each with unique coding input, that then interact with the computer program. Students can manipulate the blocks’ sounds, colors, etc., with basic coding language from their tablet or smartphone.

That’s not to say that students without computer access won’t be able to learn coding skills. In fact, many sequencing activities and critical thinking exercises call on the same comprehensive skills used when programming in front of al computer. Students can mimic coding language using only pen and paper to direct a toy car around a maze.

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Extend Student Learning

Middle school summer robotics clubs encourage students to learn in non-traditional learning environments. Take this a step farther, and robotics club instructors can encourage their students to continue learning and exploring at home. Using the skills they’ve built upon in the summer sessions, kids can take their designs to the next level and problem solve at their own pace, using their creativity.

Better yet, students return to the next day’s sessions with better-informed questions and new curiosities. In robotics, as is the case with nearly any science discipline, hands-on discovery is crucial to the learning and analysis process.

Put it to Use: Namely, the plethora of online coding tutorial and gaming systems will exponentially improve students familiarity and capability in computer programming.

Coding systems for kids have become more accessible and user-friendly than ever before. For young kids, they won’t even know they’re building on coding techniques. Virtual robot simulation allows students to construct robots in a virtual world, which further robotics education even when the hardware is not readily available. These kinds of programs call on math and science skills to estimate the distance their robot will launch, or the navigation required to guide their robot through a complex labyrinth.

Middle school summer robotics teachers can assign daily “challenges” to get kids learning at home and an opportunity to better assess students’ progress on an individual basis. Even at the conclusion of the robotics summer camp program, students will be well-equipped to continue their discovery of robots in the months and years to come.

Derek Capo