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Robotics, construction workshops teach problem-solving
Spencer Rheums (center) leads his team during a project in the Adventures in Robotics summer workshop.

Robotics, construction workshops teach problem-solving

When Spencer Rheums was asked to make changes to his team’s robot during the Adventures in Robotics summer workshop at Pitt State, the 12-year-old didn’t have to hesitate or ask questions.

“You just go to the computer and make the changes,” Rheums said. “It’s actually pretty easy, and it’s really fun.”

That ease with which children today work with computers is the biggest change from when the workshop began 15 years ago, said Pittsburg State Associate Professor Randy Winzer.

“Youth today are much more technology savvy, able to search the web and uncover information,” Winzer said. “Many of them bring smartphones with them to the workshop. They still do not always know how to process or what to do with the information, but they are very good at uncovering data.”

The Adventures in Robotics workshop is held each summer in conjunction with the Construct Your Future workshop, which is hosted by the PSU School of Construction. Both two-week camps offer area youth the opportunity to engage in hands-on, interactive learning activities at the Kansas Technology Center.

“The cool thing for me is watching the students have fun with technology and have fun with the learning process,” said Jim Otter, director of the School of Construction. “They start out a little unsure of themselves, but by the end of the week they’re confident and truly engaged in what we’re trying to teach them.”

Brock Radell, 9, said the construction workshop made him more confident with tools.

“It was fun building our doghouse as a team because we all worked together and helped each other,” Radell said. “I learned a lot about reading building plans and knowing which tools are needed for which part.”

Winzer said both workshops are important to the community, because they offer children opportunities that are unique in this area.

“I really think these sort of activities are important for a couple of reasons,” he said. “One, it gives participants an opportunity to explore activities that they probably don't get a chance to do anywhere else.  We treat them during the week like teams of junior engineers by giving them challenges to solve and limited resources with which to solve them. I don't know of very many educational settings where students get to participate in these sort of activities. 

“Two, the skills we are trying to impart (problem solving, ability to think on your feet, creativity) are vitally important for the future of U.S. industry,” he said. “These are skills that previous generations were very good at and that are necessary for an entrepreneurial economy.”

So while it may look like the kids are just having fun with LEGO bricks, they’re also learning valuable skills along the way.

“My favorite part is seeing the sense of accomplishment when the participants figure out a solution to a problem they have been working on,” Winzer said. “We have said all along that this camp is more about creative problem solving, teamwork and brainstorming to think of solutions.  Those are the skills we focus on. LEGOs just happen to be a convenient medium that we use to teach them.”

Radell said he enjoyed learning from PSU faculty.

“I think it’s cool that we get to learn from Pitt State teachers,” he said. “They really know what they’re talking about, so it’s important that we listen and pay attention. It kind of makes you excited about going to college one day.”

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