TechCayman’s ongoing robotics program hosted a two-day immersive camp at Layman Scott High School on Cayman Brac last weekend, where sixteen (16) students, ages 11-16, had the opportunity to build and program robots to solve increasingly complex puzzles.
Most of the students have had no previous exposure to robotics or programming, so the first lesson is to, “learn to think like a programmer,” explained Philip Liu, TechCayman’s Education Program Coordinator. “The participants have to carefully break each challenge down into small, precise steps before trying to translate them into a form the robot’s brain will understand.” Sean Martinez, a participant, said, “It taught me how to give instructions to machines.”
The first lesson was a messy one, as the entire group had to cooperate to break a daily task down into simple steps. For this exercise, the students had to explain how to make a sandwich to someone who had never done the task before. “Often we take for granted steps like opening the bag or being specific about how much jelly to use or how to orient a piece of bread,” said Mr. Liu. “We teach the kids to be precise and specific in their instructions, since the robots will do only exactly what we tell them to, no more and no less.”
The camp then proceeds to teach basic programming to the participants. “We use Scratch, a programming language specifically designed by Google to be accessible to young coders as young as eight (8) years old,” said Mr. Liu. “It has all the fundamentals of a professional language but uses colors and shapes to streamline the learning experience. By programming in Scratch early, students become versed with the core elements of all programming languages and can easily pick up more advanced ones.” Avian Williams, a participant, said, “The programming lesson has very valuable information that can be used in [my] future career.”
Before the end of the first day, the students had filled the playing field with self-driving robots they had built. The initial puzzle was to navigate a simple maze. Dionne Smith, a teacher at Layman Scott who mentored the event, added, “I like the way how students were willing to explore and try new functions to make their robots perform differently.” When asked about her favorite aspect of programming, Cailyn Chambers, a participant, replied, “Getting to explore the different things you could make your robot do.” Jaydon Carter, also a participant, was enthusiastic about creative freedom. “It was all my ideas!”
Modeled after actual software development, teams were encouraged to collaborate, instead of competing with one another. During multiple “code review” breaks during the two days, each team shared what solutions they had discovered and were encouraged to exchange parts of their programs with other teams. “Good software is created using the best solution, regardless of who discovered it,” said Mr. Liu. “Each team can actively support the success of all the other teams.” Ms. Smith said, “[I liked] the team effort and the way students worked cohesively to accomplish the goal.”
On the final day, each team had an opportunity to present their robot and their programs. Programs were projected on a large display, and team members had the opportunity to explain their approaches and the unique features of their programs while their robots navigated puzzles. “It’s a chance for the participants to show off what they’re really proud of,” said Mr. Liu. “We take time to acknowledge each team’s unique achievements.”
Acting Deputy Principal Kevin Roberts said, “We are extremely appreciative of the collaboration between TechCayman and our school. This is the third camp being offered to our students and as with previous ones, they found it very engaging and stimulating. The two days were well spent with the TechCayman crew and our staff mentors, and our students had fun while learning. We always welcome these opportunities to build the critical thinking and problemsolving skills of our students and look forward to a long-standing quality partnership with TechCayman as we integrate their program into our extra-curricular ICT program.”
“It was sooooo fun. I love building robots, but programming is a little harder,” said Ari-Mae Solomon, a participant. “The program was great, very interactive, stimulating, and inspiring,” said Ms. Smith. “What was especially good was that students got enough time to build, test, and improve their robots’ functionality.” Kai Roberts, a participant, said, “I liked the problem-solving.”
Special thanks were given to the teaching staff of Layman Scott High School for assisting with mentoring the camp. For more information about TechCayman’s education program, including how to participate or volunteer, contact MachineLearning@TechCayman.com .
TechCayman is a privately owned, government enabled services company, created to bring new technology companies and their teams to the Cayman Islands. Committed to the ongoing development of a thriving tech ecosystem, programs like Machine Learning Robotics have been created with a goal of inspiring Cayman’s youth to pursue careers in technology.