I discovered this program when I interviewed James Wynne, co-developer of the excimer laser and now program manager, local education outreach, for the Thomas J. Watson IBM Research Center (Yorktown Heights, NY) as part of my article about community outreach which appeared in the January 2008 issue of SPIE Professional. Among many of the other outreach programs Wynne organizes, one of his favorites (and which did not get into my article) is the EXITE (EXploring Interests in Technology and Engineering) day camps specifically for girls in 6th through 9th grade put on by many different IBM offices internationally. Each program is unique, but the main focus is on getting girls hands-on experience in engineering and electronics.
At Wynne’s location, one camp program is the RoboDance contest. Using Lego robotics kits, the girls are challenged to make a robot that must follow a path marked on the floor, usually letters spelling something like IBM or ROBOT. Beyond those guidelines, the campers are encouraged to get creative in their design and choreography of the robots, including jumping, pirouettes, or whatever else they come up with.
As Wynne explains:
“They take to this very well.
“The judging is done by the other campers. We have several categories, and the girls watch the teams perform in the auditorium, and they vote on which team had the best design, which was the most creative, which had the best choreography/synchronization.
“They enjoy this tremendously, but they do go through the tasks of making robots that don’t fall apart, and understanding when they do the programming what the consequences are going to be, so they do a lot of refining until they get the robots to do what they want. So they’re going through a real engineering activity leading up to this robot dance.”
The camps go from June through September, so it might not be too late to sign your child up for one. Unfortunately there’s no official IBM calendar for the EXITE camps; you’d probably have to scout out your nearest IBM office. But here is a flyer for one of the programs as an example.