Co-Lin instructor plans robotics camp

Published 5:00 am Monday, June 1, 2009

WESSON – “Terminator: Salvation” may be scoring at the boxoffice, but a Copiah-Lincoln Community College physics instructorhopes to be a bigger hit with his summer robotics camp for youngstudents.

Dr. Kevin McKone will host the first Robotics and SpaceExploration Camp on the Co-Lin campus and Rainwater Observatory andPlanetarium in French Camp from June 15-19 for students enrollingin grades 5-7. There is a fee to attend the camp and space islimited to the first 20 enrollees.

“This is a good hands-on approach to get them interested inscience,” he said. “I just don’t see that these kids are gettingexposed to science in school.”

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McKone said much of the early-grade science is textbook-drivenand that did not attract children to science like getting themphysically and mentally involved with experiments anddemonstrations. A large part of that, he said, is because of thecost of facilities and materials.

That is where the community college can step in and assist, hesaid.

The college’s laboratories and other facilities are not in useduring the summer break and provide an appropriate setting to hostscience-based camps.

“I think the community college is a perfect venue for this,”McKone said. “We can get them interested in science at an early ageand hopefully encourage them to come to Co-Lin in the future.”

Children attending the camp will learn the basics of robotdesign and programming during the first two days of camps and evenbegin constructing their first robot.

The third day of camp will feature competitions pitting eachteam against each other.

The competitions are varied. For example, one competition wouldevaluate how well each robot interprets instructions while anothermay judge how well the robot can manage a task.

McKone said the camp will use Lego’s Mindstorms NXT line ofrobotics toys during the camp. The NXT line is the third generationof Mindstorms toys, which use Lego blocks to build the robots.

“There’s kind of a cult following with these things,” he said.”Some of things people have done with them is just amazing. I’mjust scratching the surface. We’re all still learning about whatthese can do.”

Michael McCullough, an engineering major from Brookhaven, andPatrick Lambert, a mathematics major from West Lincoln, will beassisting McKone as instructors. They have both finished two yearsat Co-Lin and were taught by McKone.

Camp attendees will travel to French Camp June 18 and stayovernight at the Rainwater facility, where they will use 16telescopes to study the constellations. Rainwater recently beganoperating a research-grade robotics telescope.

“I think the kids will thoroughly enjoy it,” McKone said.”Hopefully, this will be something that will go from year toyear.”

Other science teachers have expressed their desire in possiblyadding a week to the camp if it is held again, he said. They wouldlike to either expand to include life sciences, such as fauna andflora, or even hold a second camp.

For more information or to register for the camp, call McKone at(601) 643-8450 or (601) 695-1445.