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TETRIX® robotics blended learning summer camp a success

Robotics team gains experience, scholarships thanks to digital-physical robots

Published October 25, 2022
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Near the end of the 2022 school year, sophomore Cohen Frankenbery’s grandma casually mentioned that a robotics camp was being hosted this summer in Pittsburg, KS. Liking the sound of getting some hands-on coding experience, Cohen immediately recruited his friend Ben Turner to enter as a team of two. “He’d invited me to try out some coding stuff with him before, so this seemed fun,” Ben said of the very beginning.

At the time, the two Fredonia High School sophomores didn’t know how big of an opportunity this summer camp would turn out to be. But let’s back up to the spring, when the idea of this camp was still in its infancy.

THE SETUP

Greenbush, an Education Service Center serving students throughout Kansas, was busy planning out their summer camp offerings. Camp and Enrichment Coordinator Emily Joy Roth stated, “Greenbush Summer Camps have been looking for organizations to partner with in order to provide dynamic, hands-on learning opportunities for our campers, so we reached out to Pitsco to brainstorm ways in which we could partner together.” Pitsco Education, provider of preK-12, hands-on STEM, coding, and robotics solutions, welcomed Greenbush’s ideas with open arms and was more than happy to help provide resources.

And so began the discussion of what the camp itself would entail. “We like to provide a wide range of camp topics to reach all interests that kids may have,” Roth said. “If that topic develops future career skills with it and incorporates local organizations, that is a bonus for us. As technology continues to advance, we are seeing coding, robotics, and engineering becoming more and more relevant in both our educational system as well as careers.”

Pitsco had the perfect solution for Greenbush’s goal: TETRIX® Virtual Robotics (VR). (See “More about TETRIX VR” below.) This relatively new solution allows for a completely flexible, blended digital/physical robotics learning experience, whereby students can use a simulated environment to code a virtual TETRIX robot and then turn around and test their code on their robot in the real world. Roth continued, “The TETRIX TaskBot seemed like a great fit for high school students to dive into the skills needed to work in a technology and engineering career field.”

As for location of this camp, Pitsco had a solution as well. The Pitsco Idea Shop in downtown Pittsburg, a collaboration with Pittsburg State University (PSU), is a space home to all sorts of technology and makerspace equipment. Thus, it was a natural fit to bring PSU into the mix as well. All in all, it was decided: Pitsco would provide the TETRIX VR and robotics sets, the Idea Shop had the staff to help coach the participating teams, and Greenbush would facilitate getting the students there. PSU would even provide the ultimate real-world relevance: $1,000 scholarships to each winning team member.

THE CAMP – MORE THAN JUST ROBOTS

So, on a June morning, the teams got a proper introduction to TETRIX VR from the Idea Shop staff, gained some coding career relevance from PSU, and spoke with Pitsco’s R&D team as well as drove some of their robots around. They also learned the rules for the rigorous camp itself: they would have three weeks to complete all 15 lessons of TETRIX VR at home in which they learned how to code in the Arduino C language, build their own TaskBot at the Idea Shop, and then compete at the Idea Shop’s final event, where they would have to combine all their new knowledge to program a robot to complete a mining-themed course. No easy feat at all.

Luckily, they did have some guidance along the way. Idea Shop student teacher Bassam Alshammari was but one resource available to the teams. Alshammari, a PSU student working toward his master’s in electronics engineering, was most excited for the hands-on aspect of the camp – the fact that students got to wield real-world technical skills by using robotics. Such skills, he said, will certainly help students obtain a job, but “moreover, they are exposed to soft skills during their camp, like teamwork and time management. . . . Both technical skills and soft skills are highly significant.” He pointed out that having one of these can get you a job, but if you want to achieve success in that job and gain a senior-level position, you need them both.

Finally, three weeks later at the culminating event, Cohen and Ben programmed their robot all the way to success. Up to that point, these high schoolers had gained all the knowledge Alshammari spoke of and lots of experience, and this day was about putting it all together. Pitsco Robotics Application Specialist Tim Lankford was there as a resource for Cohen and Ben to use as they directed a robot to navigate a map and complete tasks – ultimately, they won $1,000 scholarships apiece. Said Lankford, “It was really great to work with them. They were quick to learn and never gave up, as demanding and rigorous as the challenge was.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

“If other teams do a challenge like this, my advice is to rely on your teammate for help,” said Cohen after the culminating event. “It’s so much easier to keep going if you have another perspective.”

Echoed Roth, “Personally, I hope that students had a lot of fun working as a team to accomplish this monumental task. I also hope they feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in their work. Since a lot of what we offer is career oriented, I hope this was an eye-opening experience that helped students discover whether or not this is a career they would want to pursue.”

From the sound of it, that was the case for Cohen and Ben! They stated they learned a lot, had fun, and mostly hope for more opportunities like this one in the area because it was so relevant to what they want to do in the future. Cohen wants to pursue a career in IT or cybersecurity, and Ben is considering engineering. They still have time to decide what fields to pursue, of course, but this camp certainly gave them a head start in more ways than one.


MORE ABOUT TETRIX VR

Stop-gap online educational materials were prevalent during the pandemic, but many of these solutions fell far short of delivering the content – and experiences – students needed to stay engaged and grow their knowledge base.

For example, generic online robotics simulations seemed great, but by themselves could go only so far in delivering the experience students needed to fully understand robots’ applications in real life and the workplace. That’s why Pitsco went all in with development of TETRIX Virtual Robotics (VR) simulation software, powered by Robotify.

The recently released digital/physical solution offers the best of both worlds – online and hands-on learning. Designed not as a quick fix due to the pandemic but instead as a long-term solution, TETRIX VR enables students to function like real-world engineers, designing and coding digitally and then building actual robots to carry out the code they create.

TETRIX VR QUICK FACTS

  • 22.5 hours of content
  • 15 activities
  • 3 robot types covered: assistive, domestic, and safety and security robots
  • 4 career clusters aligned: health science; information technology; law, public safety, corrections, and security; STEM
  • 100% web based
  • 0 coding experience needed to get started

Learn more at Pitsco.com/TETRIX-Virtual-Robotics-Simulation-Software-Annual-License.

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