Making friends with science

Camper Lilyan Plain,6, designing a path for Ozobot. Vanessa Hrvatin


Vanessa Hrvatin

Special to The Journal


A real curiosity filled the air at the Maawn Doosh Gumig Community and Youth Centre as a group of kids got ready to try their hand at operating Ozobot –a robot no bigger than a golf ball—as part of a science and technology camp.

The weeklong camp was delivered by the national charity Actua as part of their Indigenous Youth in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program, with the goal of encouraging youth to ‘make friends with science’.

“We’re trying to expose kids to as many types of science as possible, to spark their interest and help them not be intimated by it,” said camp counsellor Olivia Seillier.

Ozobot didn’t seem to be too intimidating, as campers, ranging in age from six to 13, raced off in partners to design customized maps for the robot to follow. By using coloured markers to draw on white paper, the campers created paths for Ozobot. Different colours signalled the robot to travel at different speeds. The idea behind the activity was to get kids thinking about the way robots function and what they can be used for.

“This has been my favourite activity so far,” said Marcellus Plain, 9, a student from New York who is spending the summer in Sarnia.

This isn’t Marcellus’ first experience with robots. Last year he and his classmates took three months to build a drone for a science fair, which triggered his interest in coding.

“My sister doesn’t like buying Apps for her phone, so once I got interested in coding I started making her some games,” he said. “So far I’ve made 12 games, and one of them is a geometry game. It’s pretty cool.”

Ozobot’s popularity with the campers wasn’t the only cause for excitement. Imperial Oil engineers Haley Walker and Andrew McLeod made a special visit to talk about the role engineers play in society.

“We want to teach kids that being an engineer doesn’t just mean sitting at a desk and typing on your computer. It’s so much more than that,” said Walker.

To prove just how important engineering is, Walker and McLeod showed a series of images and asked campers to identify who made each item. “Engineers made it!” they shouted, as pictures of cars, cell phones, and water taps flashed across the computer screen.

The campers’ week was filled with many challenging activities including designing and flying a remote controlled drone, engineering a helmet, and mapping the community.

Seillier says camp programs are tailored to each city, so that kids learn about locally relevant science issues.

“We talk about erosion, so in Sarnia we would talk specifically about erosion near lakes and how buildings can be made to withstand this erosion, that sort of thing,” she said. “Our goal is really to make sure these kids have a positive experience with science.”