July 23, 2012

Robots and Android Apps Showcased in Computer Science Camp

VALDOSTA -- Imagine robots that respond to sound, Android applications that play ping pong and robots programmed to mow the lawn -- all created by middle school students. Such creations were showcased Friday, July 20 during the close of the first week of Computing Adventures @ VSU.

Sixteen area middle school students participated in the first week of the computer science camp. The camp continues this week with area high school students.

During the middle school camp finale, students presented their inventions to their parents, families and friends. Clayton Burke, a sixth-grader at Hahira Middle School, and his partner Reilly Lennon, an eighth-grader at Pine Grove Middle School, demonstrated their Android application titled “Jungle Pong.” The duo also presented a robot that resembled a lawn mower and had blades attached to the rear to cut grass.

Brock Washington, a sixth-grader at Hahira Middle School, and his partner Kyle Gay, a six grader at Willie J. Williams Middle School in Moultrie, presented a power saw robot that sliced through paper.

Other creations included inchworm, staircase and dolphin shaped robots, robots that carried up to 20 pounds and apps with monsters from the video game MineCraft.

Following presentations, Dr. Krishnendu Roy, coordinator of Computing Adventures, provided links to videos of the projects on Youtube. He also demonstrated how parents could scan a bar code on the back of their child’s camp T-shirt with a smartphone to open the link to the videos.

This year marks the third year that Computing Adventures has been held at VSU.

“My goal in hosting the camp is to get students interested in computer sciences while they are young,” said Roy. “From there, hopefully they will explore it on their own.”

Dr. Connie Richards, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said that the camp is a great addition to the college’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) outreach initiative.

“The College of Arts and Sciences is always excited to participate in more outreach programs,” said Richards. “We commend Dr. Roy on obtaining funding for and facilitating this camp every year, as well as making computer science fun for the students and piquing their imaginations and creativity. We are particularly proud to see students return from last year to participate in the camp.”

This year, Roy was able to hold a weeklong workshop for area teachers titled “Valdosta Computes” prior to camp, after receiving $12,000 in grant funds from Google.

The training workshop provided basic concepts for teaching computer science in the classroom for four area teachers. The teachers explored advancements in technology, animation and robotics. The workshop was funded by a grant from Google Inc. as part of its Computer Science for High Schools (CS4HS) program, an initiative to promote computational thinking and computer science in school curriculum.

Jana Goff, a sixth through ninth-grade teacher at Open Bible Christian School, said that the workshop exposed her to updates in technology.

“The workshop was refreshing for me as a math teacher,” said Goff. “Dr. Roy taught me how math and computer science go hand-in-hand and how math is used to build computers. I definitely gained some valuable information that I can now share in the classroom.”

For Aqila Blankumsee, ninth through 12th grade business education teacher at Valdosta High School, the workshop provided her with access to tools she can use to enhance her curriculum.

“As a business education teacher, I teach business and computer science,” she said. “Dr. Roy showed me how I could get access to funding and other resources for teaching computer science in the classroom.”

Blankumsee stressed the importance of getting students interested in computer science before they get to college.

“It is important to have some type of foundation before high school graduation so it is easier to transition into taking college-level computer science courses. Many times, students get into college, and because they had no prior computer science instruction, find the courses so overwhelming that they change majors.”

Following the one-week workshop, the teachers served as camp counselors at Computing Adventures.

“The entire experience was great,” Goff said. “Dr. Roy was patient when providing instruction for the kids and kept them engaged.”

Blankumsee added that the students left the camp with a heightened appreciation for technology.

“I would definitely love to participate in the camp experience again,” said Blankumsee. “As the camp grows, it would also be nice to see more minorities and females participate and, ultimately, become interested in careers in this field.”

Through the CS4HS initiative, funds are provided by the Google Education Group to host two to three day workshops for middle school and high school teachers. Google currently offers CS4HS grants to colleges and universities in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China, New Zealand and Australia. According to a Google blog about the program, the ultimate goals are to “’train the trainer,’ develop a thriving community of high school CS teachers, and spread the word about the awe and beauty of computing.” The grant was introduced in 2010 with hopes of impacting at least 36,000 students and ensuring they are exposed to the latest computing tools in technology. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected growth of employment in computer science between 2010 and 2020 is faster than average at a rate of 28 percent. The demand for computer science professionals is currently high and expected to grow as companies continue to invest in newer technology and mobile networks.

For more information about Computing Adventures @ VSU, visit http://www.valdosta.edu/computingcamp/index.html .

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