Thursday, August 15, 2013

Rockets and Robots

Earlier this summer, Mikaela attended GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math and Science), which was a one week camp held at the Governor's Academy for Engineering Studies in the neighboring county.  

She really enjoyed it and got to do everything from learn how to program robots, to measure the strength of chicken bones, to tour VCU's School of Engineering.  By the week's end, not only was she considering becoming an engineer, she was also very motivated to get more involved in robotics.

Connor on the other hand, has long been interested in robotics and one of his very favorite hobbies from day one has been "building things."

Bob saw these interests as the perfect opportunity to share his knowledge and experience with his kids as well as allow them to spend time together doing something they all enjoy.   I probably should mention that Bob is a mechanical engineer who teaches high school physics and runs the Engineering Specialty Center.  He has also been coaching high school FIRST robotics teams for the past 7 or 8 years. 

Bob came up with the idea of putting together "Rockets and Robots", a terrific, week-long camp that was held at our house.  Each day, Connor, Mikaela and five of their friends spent 7-8 hours with Bob, learning about physics, engineering and robotics.  They did lots of experiments, built rockets and robots, learned how to use CAD software and even took a field trip to a retired engineer's house.

On the first day of camp, Bob taught them all of Newton's Laws via hands on experiments.  For example, his first experiment involved having each participant lie on a bed of nails.  Bob then placed a cinder block on each of their chests and swung at it with a sledge hammer in order to break it.  Needless to say, the kids were pretty unsure about the whole idea, so Connor volunteered to go first.

Kerby was up next, but was clearly not convinced that Newton's First Law really worked.

They also did a number of other experiments, all of which were pretty darn fun!

During the course of the week, the kids each built a small rocket.  The Team America Rocketry Challenge's competition rockets are much larger and go hundreds of feet in the air as well as carry a payload.  However, the Estes kit rockets were a great intro and the kids really enjoyed launching them.

This picture below totally cracks me up.  We launched the rockets in our pasture and it's obvious that both Fannie Mae (my pet donkey) and Zeke (our dog), weren't too crazy with the blast off.



Bob also had the kids download a computer program called RockSim, which is a CAD program they are using to design their competition rockets.  


The last couple of days of camp were devoted to learning about the VEX robots and this year's challenge.  They broke down the robot into various components.  For example, the kids learned about different types of lift mechanisms and then spent several hours designing and building them.

 Connor and Kerby were tasked to design a chassis capable of going over "speed bump" type obstacles.

Connor loved it and long after camp was over, he was still building experimental lift mechanisms and testing out chassis designs.


Bob also built in time in the schedule for the kids to have time to hang out/goof around during lunch and go swimming at the end of each day.

The camp was a blast and the kids really had a lot of fun.  In fact, so much so they subsequently gained one new team mate.  The eight of them are going to spend Tuesday afternoons with Bob during this upcoming school year.  He's generously volunteered to coach homeschool VEX and Rocketry competition teams.  They're excited...and so am I--it's something very cool and educational for them to do that entails no work from me.  Yay! :-)

Here are some links with information about each of these programs: - VEX Info Game Site - This year's VEX challenge - Rocket Contest Info

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