CLAYMONT — Since he was a freshman, Lewis MacMillan has wanted to start a summer camp at Archmere Academy focusing on robotics. This year, the camp launched with nine middle-school students on board, learning the basics of engineering and programming.
As the students worked on their Lego “Mindstorms,” miniature robotic vehicles that they would later program to complete a maze in a science lab on the Claymont campus, it appeared as if the venture was a hit. MacMillan was joined by six of his fellow rising seniors and two teachers for the four-day camp.
The desire to start the camp dates back a few years.
“I saw what other (robotics) teams were doing in the area and I thought we could do something similar but take it up a notch. Other teams were going to school one day a week or doing some outreach at a local library, but I thought we could do something and host it at Archmere,” MacMillan said.
He worked with Archmere principal John Jordan, and this year, the school finally had enough commitments to make it feasible.
“I’ve been pumped since we got our first signup four months ago,” MacMillan said. “It’s nice to introduce them to something I’m passionate about. Obviously, robotics is going to have a huge place in the future, and every kid needs to be equipped at least dealing with robots. This is a good way to get kids introduced, but at the same time some experience. It gives them some practice.”
One of the teachers who spent the week at the camp was Susan Archer. Her normal specialty is chemistry; she was content to let her students lead the way. She explained that half of the campers had not built a robot before, so the itinerary started from the beginning – writing a procedure that explained all of the steps the budding robot experts would take during an activity.
That first activity was constructing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“When you do something in science or engineering, you have to write down what you’re doing,” Archmere said. “So we had them write down a procedure where they made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The director would try to follow that procedure, and of course, steps were left out, so the jelly ended up on the table.”
The Mindstorms introduced the children to block programming, and the steps grew more complex by the day. That kind of programming is also used in Tetrix-based robotics. Lego and Tetrix are two of the common robotics found in high school competitions.
Robotics consist of different levels. The initial one, which was on display at Archmere, was first tech challenge, or FTC. Those robots have a maximum size of 18 square inches. One of the higher levels is FRC, or First Robotics Competition. MacMillan and his crew were set to touch on that level by the end of the fourth day.
Archer said the number of students who participate in Lego League has grown substantially. “It’s really exploded in the last 10 years. It’s really, really popular.”
Now that he has the camp off the ground, MacMillan’s next task is ensuring that it will be able to continue in the future. “I’m looking to get some younger kids in so this is a yearly thing, or at least a bi-yearly thing.”