Early involvement key for young learners

The key to attracting students to technical careers is exposing them early on in their educational careers.

Get to them before someone has chance to prejudice them with comments like “Math and science are hard.” Then you have a chance to open their minds and imaginations to the joys and mystery such studies can yield.

That was one of the goals of a weeklong camp the Center Grove and Greenwood’s robotics teams created for students in third through sixth grades. This is the first year the two high school teams have worked together on the camp, which also raises money for their teams’ building supplies for the regular season.

Last year, about a dozen kids attended the camp at a Center Grove area church. This year, 16 students signed up. Next year, organizers hope to extend the camp to two weeks if enough students enroll.

Center Grove High School students created the curriculum and each day’s activities. While the younger students learn about assembling and programming, the Greenwood robotics team members pick up tips on how to better build their robots through guidance from the Center Grove team. Greenwood started its team last year, but Center Grove’s program is 10 years old and has teams for two divisions of robot-building.

Robotics team leader Sharon Baxter said Center Grove hopes to build up Greenwood’s program so they can eventually compete alongside each other. As she put it: “We have lots of levels of learning going on.”

The camp exposes children to science, technology, engineering and mathematics — or STEM — lessons that students typically don’t learn until middle or high school.

Learning how simple machines work can open up a new thought process to the students, such as by making a catapult out of rubber bands and a few pieces of wood. Most of the robotics campers have built LEGO sets or robot kits before, but some have not. Introducing elementary-aged children to those concepts early can help them prepare for a future with the robotics team or decide that STEM-based careers might not be for them.

The robotics camp is an entertaining way to introduce youngsters to the rudiments of a technical education. It’s one of those situations where the students are learning a great deal without realizing it. To them, they’re just having fun.

And there’s a benefit for the older students who are able to reinforce and enhance their understanding of subjects by helping the novices.

We hope this program and others like it will continue. They have the potential for turning youngsters on to technical careers that will be greatly valued when they finish school.

At issue

Many youngsters are told math and science are too hard before they ever get the chance to become enthralled with the subjects.

Our point

Programs like the Center Grove robotics camp expose youngsters to the fun of technical subjects.