June at campMODA: Defenders of the Planet

 
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This June, campers ranging from 4th to 7th grade took a long, hard look at some of the challenges our planet faces: pollution, environmental protection, sustainability and distribution in the food industry, and how to make the earth a better place. Then they did something truly admirable—they set out to solve those problems, one robot at a time.

MODA’s weeklong session of Defenders of the Planet set out to educate campers not just about the challenges our planet faces, but also about how designers, scientists, and engineers are using robotics to address those environmental problems. Kids studied and took inspiration from the robots that are already protecting the planet—from tree-planting Growbot to SCUBA diving coral reef guardian Ocean One—to design and prototype brand new robots that could make a difference in environmental issues that are important to them.

The robot-building process began simply enough. Each camper was asked three questions that would drive the rest of their time at camp: What will my robot do? How will it do it? and How can I test it?

After a brainstorming session where campers discussed what environmental challenges they wanted to solve and how they might design and build a robot to help, inspiring, touching, and downright practical plans for Enviro-Bots covered whiteboards around the room. Kids settled on ideas ranging from robots that can save pets trapped in housefires to robo-cleaners that sweet the streets looking to pick up after pups on their daily walks.

Using LEGO NXT robotics, campers were then able to prototype, refine, and test their bots, familiarizing themselves with the technological ins-and-outs of LEGO robotics, the Common Block Palette (for coding their creations), and the engineering and design processes that go into developing a successful Enviro-Bot.

By the end of the week, the campers had produced some amazing final projects that they presented to their friends and family at an end-of-camp showcase. They didn’t only become experts in environmental challenges and the robots that help overcome them, they also became better teammates, learned to engage with real-world problems using coding, engineering, and design mindsets, and developed a new sense of creative confidence seeing their ideas made real.

Seeing these kids so enthusiastic and driven to make their world a better place, no matter the size or scope of their project, was something truly special. Alice Vogler, MODA’s Director of Education and Community Engagement says it best: “They really made me feel like things were all going to be okay.”