A group of elementary school students held their breath as a camp counselor tested their tangle of pencils with the weight of a book. As the counselor let go of the book, the students let out a group sigh. The structure passed the test.
From June 24-28, about 20 Plainville elementary school students converged on the Middle School of Plainville to test their engineering and robots skills at a free camp designed by Kingswood-Oxford student Ella Schwartz and funded by a grant from the Jamie Garfield ’00 grant program.
The structure of pencils, known as a DaVinci bridge, was held together by friction and balance. It was just one of the many challenges issued to the young campers during the week-long camp. Each day, the students participated in various engineering and robotics challenges designed to teach communication and cooperation.
“I designed this camp to be challenging and frustrating,” Schwartz said in a press release. “The goal was not to succeed at every challenge or task but to learn how to communicate and cooperate with a team while still having fun. It was more important that the campers learned how to listen and be constructive while talking with each other rather than successfully completing a challenge.”
Schwartz will be a senior this fall at Kingswood Oxford School in West Hartford and serves as the team captain of the school’s robotics team. Along with her classmate, Michael Doyle, she worked with campers to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) related skills building, including designing, building and programming for robotics
Engineering challenges included balancing books with structures made of pencils or marshmallows and toothpicks, along with floating pennies on a sheet of aluminum foil.
During robots challenges, campers learned how to use gears to create simple machines and working robots.
A driving and strategy segment focused on teamwork and cooperation while students learned how robots “think” and how they “do” exactly what they are “told.”
Schwartz’s mother, Laurel Schwartz, is a faculty member and robotics team advisor at the Middle School of Plainville, and she served as the faculty advisor for the summer camp program.
“We wanted students to build skills, not just in engineering, but in communication,” she said in the press release. “Successful students are often creative problem solvers that work well in teams. It was very exciting to see the changes in the students’ ability to work together.”
According to the middle school robotics adviser, 95 percent of the students improved with managing their frustrations and communicating better by the end of camp.
Superintendent of schools Steven LePage said that the program was a beneficial one to the community and a win-win for all involved. “I look forward to supporting future opportunities such as these that utilize our district STEM and STEAM labs while promoting the skills students need for success in their future: creativity, collaboration, communication, perseverance, and problem-solving,” the superintendent said in the press release.