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Kids take intensive robotics course during summer break

FORT KENT, Maine — Tech-savvy students aged 9-14 proved that there can be much more to summer vacation camp than mosquitos and roasted marshmallows when they participated in a LEGO Robotics Camp at the University of Maine at Fort Kent during the week of July 10-14.

The camp, the first of it’s kind in Fort Kent, taught STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] content to students through the use of EV3 LEGO kits which the students used to build and program robots.

Tom Bickford, who is executive director of the non-profit, Orono-based Maine Robotics, ran the camp. He has been to the area before to supervise a variety of LEGO Robotics day programs and competitions throughout the St. John Valley. The summer camp was more extensive, however, with participants meeting 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“The nice thing about a camp is we get to spend 35 hours this week with 16 kids. It’s a totally different experience than spending 35 hours during the school year where learning is one hour here and one hour there,” Bickford said. “You get a lot more out of it by being deeply immersed in it.”

Aurelia Maietta, 13, of Hampden attended the camp along with her cousins Keenan McDoughall, 14, and Kadence McDoughall, 9, both of Caribou.

“We’re gonna use the EV3 to power a conveyor belt,” Maietta said of the trio’s project.

Kadence McDoughall said she enjoyed her first LEGO Robotics experience. “We get to build robotics and work with tech,” she said.

Inspiring students to enjoy working with technology is vital to individual student success and to the future of our country as a whole, according to Bickford.

“They live in a technology world, no matter what we do or how we treat it,” he said. “The more technology literate they can be, the more power they will have in their own lives.” He added that statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor indicate that “we’re about 350,000 engineers short right now.” Bickford said there is a similar shortage of computer programmers in the U.S.

“There’s no way we can remedy that without kids as young as this thinking technology is where they want to go.”

Fort Kent Elementary School educator Kelly Marquis assisted Bickford and is in training to run the Fort Kent based LEGO Robotics camp herself next summer.  

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