Saint Leo University’s Robotics Summer Camps Give Students Chance to Program, Experience Hands-On Learning
The programs give high school and middle school a taste of STEM education, and combine fun with learning new skills.
They can do tai chi, head bang, and golf all while teaching students valuable computer programming skills.
Saint Leo University’s NAO robots were the star teachers during a summer robotics camps for high school students, held June 12 – 16. This was the second of two robotics camps this year with the first geared toward middle school students and held June 5 – 9. Each camp was designed for the appropriate age/skills level.
High school students were able to learn Python programming and try it out in the university’s Robotics Lab, using the NAO programmable robots.
“He gets really sassy,” said Margaret Kennard, who attends Pasco High School, when talking about the robot she and teammate Cassidy Foxworth, of Kirkland Ranch High School, were making move, dance, and follow their commands. Both Kennard and Foxworth enjoyed their time with the robots, learning coding and having them do interesting things.
The “Two Logans” — Logan Carbonaro and Logan Koschman, both students at Kirkland Ranch High School, enjoyed working with their robot. While they’re studying robotics at their school, Saint Leo’s camp and the Python programming was “more rewarding,” Carbonaro said, as they hadn’t had the opportunity to do that yet.
Dr. Monika Kiss, chair and professor of mathematics in Saint Leo’s College of Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Data Science (CARDS), has hosted and taught the robotics camps since 2015, she started the “Girls Can!” camps aimed at exposing more girls to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) experiences.
“Both camps focus on understanding what robots can do, and how we can learn about larger robots by building small ones in the classroom,” Kiss said. “We discuss the many uses of robots and talk about how they — the students —see the robots change their lives in the future.”
At the middle school camp at Saint Leo, the students used LEGO® MINDSTORMS® kits to learn how to build and program robots.
“I feel hands-on learning is great as it engages all of our senses,” Kiss said of the camps. “It allows students to try things out and learn from all their experiences. Sometimes things work and sometimes they do not. Learning from both is the best way to figure out things.
In school, students are taking high-stakes tests, they have to perform to achieve good grades. The camp provides them a place where it is OK to fail and try again by learning these experiences. This type of learning provides great confidence building.”
Most of the high school students are eyeing careers in some sort of tech field with campers and robotics teammates Claire Magill of Wesley Chapel, FL, and Viviana de Jesus of North Port, FL, thinking about aerospace, mechanical, and robotic engineering.
“STEM areas are going to be more important than ever,” Kiss said. “Technology is changing so very much that there are jobs and positions whose job titles do not exist yet, but in a couple of years from now, it will be the norm.
“The one piece of advice I have for parents and students is this: be willing to learn, be open to change, and be willing to challenge yourself to do things you did not know you could,” she continued. “We are experiencing an AI/robotics revolution, not unlike the industrial revolution. We need to be open to learning and adjusting our positions in the working world.”
Students at Saint Leo’s robotics summer camps are ready to take on those challenges — even if they’re having fun while learning.
And Kiss is enjoying it with them: “As a mother of a young lady and a woman mathematician, I feel strongly that I need to pay it forward,” she said. “I have had some amazing mentors — people who helped me to be where I am today. I feel it is my responsibility to do the same for the next generation. STEM is key. We need more young women and men, to enter these fields. We have to inspire them. We need to provide them with a safe place to love this stuff. So, many come in with terrible experiences in school. They have stories about being made fun of for liking math or science. I want to change that! I absolutely love the camps. I love it when kids figure something out. They light up. They can't wait to show their parents what they accomplished.”