Local kids are learning about science this summer at UC Davis, in a youth-oriented program supported by the university’s School of Education and Campus Recreation program.
Titled “Summer Fun with a Brain,” the program features classes that focus on building robots, as well as others devoted to learning how the human body works (and sometimes doesn’t work), or studying waves (tidal waves, sound waves, light waves) and the patterns they can make.
“It gives young people a great taste of life on a college campus,” said Andee Press-Dawson, director of community programs with the School of Education. “And it gives some of our newly credentialed teachers from UC Davis an opportunity to share their talents.”
In addition, the teachers get to try on some lesson plans reflecting the recently developed Next Generation science standards, which the state Board of Education is widely expected to adopt for all California students in September.
Teacher Eric Garber, who works during the school year at West Sac Prep, a charter school affiliated with the UCD School of Education, is teaching robotics this summer — including a class last week that was aimed at students going into grades 4-6. The kids build robots from kits — “the real goal is to have them create a specific mission or task, and then design a robot to do it — in about four days,” Garber explained.
“The tasks can range from having the robot kick a ball into a goal, or have a robot catapult-launch a projectile,” he said. “Alternately, some of the kids build ‘object avoidance’ roaming robots that can drive around obstacles using limited sensors. Or build a robot that can draw pictures, meaning multiple geometric shapes.”
Garber had 28 kids in his Beginning Robotics class last week. The group included 10-year-old Ethan Schroeder, who will be a fifth-grader at César Chávez Elementary this fall. Ethan explained that he initially intended “to build a robot that would catapult a wheel. But during the week, I got more ideas, so I put a bulldozer on the front of the robot, and made it stronger with gears.
“It’s my first robot,” Ethan added. “Finding a design that actually works was the hardest part.”
That drew a smile from Garber.
“We’re getting them to be robotic engineers, actively engaged in creating their own mission parameters, problem-solving and design solutions,” he said — the kind of hands-on approach that the new Next Generation science standards favor.
Lily Byrne, 11, will be a sixth-grader at Chávez this fall.
“My robot does two things,” Lily explained. “It kicks a ball into a goal. And it fights other robots with its ‘kickers.’ It is an aggressive robot.
“I’ve done erector sets with motors (in the past),” Lily added, “but you don’t program those.” She added, “I want to join the robotics team for high school students, Citrus Circuits. They came in and showed us their humongous robot that throws Frisbees.”
Surina Beal, another 11-year-old, will be in the sixth grade this fall at Patwin Elementary.
“My robot is called GolfBot,” she said. “It uses a golf-club-like arm to hit a ball into a cup.”
Helping in the class was teenager Maksym Monastryskyy, who will be a sophomore this fall at Davis High School. He acknowledged that the robotics class creates a lot of whirring and loud clicking, as the students test out their projects-in-progress.
“I took two robotics classes at Harper Junior High last year, so I’m used to this noise,” he said.
In another room, teacher Bipan Lally was working with a group of younger students in a health-oriented class called “Medical Madness,” using a product called “Glo Germ” to create hand prints around light switches and doorknobs — which glow under a black light — to help students understand how germs can spread through casual contact.
“This helps them understand why it is important to cover your mouth when you sneeze, and wash your hands,” Lally said. “The idea is to get the kids to think like a scientist.”
Paras Sajjan, 8, will be starting the third grade at North Davis Elementary in the fall.
“We did a scavenger hunt for germs,” Paras said. “We turned out the regular lights, and used a flashlight to look for germs — germs that could spread to other people.”
Will the experience prompt her to be a little more careful at home and at school? “I’m going to make sure I wash my hands more often,” she said with a smile.
Helping in the “Medical Madness” class was Julia Herring, a fourth-year UC Davis student majoring in wildlife, fish and conservation biology.
“I want to go into environmental education, so I thought this would be a great opportunity,” Herring said. “I enjoy the hands-on activities, like learning how far a sneeze goes.”
The “Summer Fun with a Brain” series continues with more classes the weeks of July 22-26, July 29-Aug. 2 and Aug. 5-9. Classes are $275 each. For more information, visit http://cru.ucdavis.edu/summercamps or call Press-Dawson at 530-574-8906.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.