Students travel far and wide to learn new robotics skills at UA Little Rock

Teams of students in grades 3-8 prepare their robots to compete in the filed challenge in the VEX IQ Advanced Robotics Camp. Photo by Ben Krain.

Cody Gay, a soon-to-be seventh grader from Red Cross, Georgia, was determined to learn more about robotic sensors this summer to improve his skills. 

After not finding any summer camps near his home, Gay’s father searched online and found the VEX IQ Advanced Robotics Camp at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, which focuses on advanced building and programming strategies and the use of sensors.

“I liked that I learned how to program sensors,” Gay said. “That’s what I came here to do and for the experience.”

As part of their summer vacation, the Gay family camped in Burns Park in North Little Rock, giving Cody, now entering his fourth year of competitions, the chance to advance his understanding of robotics. It’s a move that seems to be paying off as Gay’s team, “Technobros,” took first place in the camp’s competition on July 12.

“I’m excited and proud of my team for winning. Robotics is different, and you can make a good career out of it,” Gay said. “I’m thinking about going into engineering or something that involves STEM.”

Sandra Leiterman, math specialist in the UA Little Rock Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education Center, said the robotics summer camp program, now in its third year, is teaching students the skills they need to enter STEM careers that are in high demand. Last year, an estimated 2.4 million STEM jobs went unfulfilled, according to the Smithsonian Science Education Center.

“This camp went quite well. We are really impressed with how well the students focused on sensors,” Leiterman said. “Robotics automation and computer programing is the wave of the future. These kids are primed to learn so many transferable skills – hard work, teamwork, and communication – that they will use in their future careers.”

Teams of students in grades 3-8 prepare their robots to compete in the filed challenge in the VEX IQ Advanced Robotics Camp. Photo by Ben Krain.
Teams of students in grades 3-8 prepare their robots to compete in the filed challenge in the VEX IQ Advanced Robotics Camp. Photo by Ben Krain.

A third of the camp’s students traveled more than two hours from the Lakeside School District in Lake Village. Jennifer Armstrong, a gifted and talented teacher, and Christine Davenport, a computer technology teacher, brought 12 fourth-through-eighth-grade students from the school district’s robotics program to learn some new skills at the camp.

“Our robotics program has about 35 students, and each team member will take back what they learn to teach to our program’s eight competitive teams,” Armstrong said.

“The world is heading toward STEM careers,” Davenport added. “Having this background will be immensely important to them in the future. So many careers will require coding skills.”

Jaiden Rutan, a rising eighth-grader on a team called “Robonados,” said he was looking forward to putting his new skills to work in the upcoming school year.

“I like how we are able to get used to the game before the competition began,” he said. “I learned how to use new sensors in my robots, which will be great in upcoming competitions.”

Jimmy Skaletski, a rising ninth-grader, traveled from Germany to attend the camp. 

“My dad is related to one of the robotics teachers, and I wanted to learn how to build robots using a new program,” Skaletski said. “In my school, we have an extracurricular robotic program, but it’s different than VEX IQ. I enjoyed learning new programming skills, and driving the robots is fun.”

 

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