Child’s play takes on a whole new meaning at the Robotics and Nanotechnology Camp offered for children in kindergarten through 12th grade.
The program, directed by Dean Aslam, MSU professor of electrical and computer engineering, strives to introduce children to cutting edge technology while allowing them to get a hands-on experience.
“The idea is to teach these new technologies to children — future scientists, future engineers,” Aslam said. “Not many professors are doing that.”
Aslam began the program 11 years ago when he was developing modules at the University of Michigan, where he provided leadership on how to teach young children.
Since then, the program, which has more than 80 participants enrolled this summer, has been consistently at MSU but has also been offered in Ann Arbor on an occasional basis.
The program is offered in three separate weeks through the summer. Each week offers a morning session and an afternoon session. Children can sign up for either one of the sessions or both of the sessions.
Within these sessions, the children can choose from a selection of eight to nine areas, which offer the study of topics such as programmable robots, mind-control technology and nanotechnology. Aslam develops all of the areas.
Every session has all areas of learning available and all ages are welcome in each session. Aslam said by following the nontraditional route of mixing ages, younger children receive role model encouragement by seeing what older children are capable of. The camp doesn’t follow other traditional conventions.
“We don’t give lessons,” Aslam said. “That’s why it’s so popular. In a conventional way, you start explaining things, and that’s boring. (You) show them something interesting and then you explain it.”
Aslam said after an area has been chosen, the children are taught the basic fundamentals of the area. After they have covered the basics, they tell the children to start working on their project. The projects involve the usage of various forms of technology and Legos are heavily used.
“We encourage them to come up with the project on their own, we want to encourage innovation,” Aslam said.
Aslam said a particular benefit he has seen from children attending the camp is the assurance they receive that they are cut out to pursue science as a profession due to a hands-on experience.
Melissa Weimer, from Waterford, Mich., said she has been bringing her sons to the summer program for the past eight years because of the incredible mentorship that is provided during the camp.
“It’s really hard to get mentors in the field of science and engineering,” Weimer said. “Having that mentorship and the role models is amazing. (My son) tells people he wants his doctorate in biomedical engineering.”
Her son, Marshall Weimer, 14, has been attending the camp since he was 6-years old and became an instructor this summer.
“This has helped me think more openly and creatively,” Marshall Weimer said. “I think it’s very extraordinary that I’m actually an example of Dr. Aslam’s (idea) working in the real world.”
Aslam hopes to see more girls signing up in the camp and pursuing engineering in the future.
“The reason there are not many women in engineering is because female children play with Barbies and male children play with Legos,” Aslam said. “There is no challenge for girls.”
The last week of the camp for the summer will be from July 15-18.