Clifton Park teams up with RPI to teach kids that ‘robots aren’t magic’


By Kassie Parisi

Gazette Reporter

CLIFTON PARK — Clifton Park is teaming up with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to show kids that there isn’t any magic behind making robots move, just science.

The Jr. LEGO EV3 program, which is sponsored in part by the Town of Clifton Park and the Center for Initiatives in Pre College at RPI, is intended to give children ages 8 to 10 experience in robot building and programming using LEGOs. The programs features a curriculum that changes each year, and RPI students are responsible for overseeing the camp.

Paul Schoch, an associate professor at RPI and director of CIPCE, said that the college and town have been partnering on this project since before he became the director seven years ago.

There were a few years in which the town didn’t host the program but, Schoch said, it has been a fairly regular partnership for the most part.

“It’s a nice relationship that we have between RPI and the Town of Clifton Park,” Schoch said. “Listening to how excited the students are is great.”

At the April 17 Town Board meeting, The Clifton Park Town Board unanimously approved the program for the upcoming summer.

“This program has been tremendous over the past several years,” said Clifton Park Town Supervisor Phil Barrett at the board meeting. “We’ve enjoyed our partnership with RPI, the programs have been extremely successful.”

While the camp is held in Clifton Park, it is open to people who are not Clifton Park residents as well. Over the five days, Schoch said, campers go step by step through topics, and learn about how the robots they are building can be made to do anything they want, such as react to an object, or respond to the surrounding environment. At the end of the five days, the campers present their final projects. There is also a teacher present at the camp for classroom management.

Beginner level robotics course are important, especially for younger students, because it takes the mystique out of science and shows children that making robots is something anyone is capable of, if they just figure out how to do it.

“It also helps them feel that, this is something they could do,” Schoch said. “There’s nothing magical about this. If you want the robot to go somewhere, you have to figure out how to do it.”

Programs that target young students also help to generate long-term interest in STEM topics, Schoch said. There are other opportunities to for kids to pursue locally that will allow them to delve into the world of engineering and robotics, and many local schools have their own clubs, classes, and programs that specialize in the field.

“They get excited, engaged, and I hope it keeps them looking at this,” Schoch said of the junior lego camp.

The junior lego program is a full day camp that spans over five days, from July 17 – 21. The program takes place in the Clifton Park Town Hall, and can accept 24 students . The cost is $400.