Robo Camp and the Computer Literacy Academy

Published: Mar 31, 2010 4:00:00 PM
Media Contact: Daniela Marghitu,, (334) 844-6386

Robo Camp kidsDaniela Marghitu, faculty member in the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering, is the founder director of two successful K12 Engineering Outreach camps : Robo Camp, which she created in 2007, is a program developed to reinforce computer literacy to children ages 10-18, while introducing advanced concepts and hands-on applications of computer programming and robotics (, and the Computer Literacy Academy which has helped more than 200 typical and special need children learn about computers and the Internet since 2005 (

Robo Camp builds a platform for problem or project-based learning and integrated knowledge from many disciplines, including mathematics, science, social studies, English and art. Children learn advanced computer concepts and hands-on applications of computer programming and robotics. Carnegie Mellon University's Alice Programming System, Microsoft Kodu programming environment, Microsoft Robotics, Lego Mindstorms and Robotics Invention System, Lego Mindstorms NXT, Lego Tetrix, and iRobot Create are used to teach concepts of robotics and computer programming. Computer Science Unplugged ( activities are implemented by children using Alice, Kodu, Lego Mindstorm and iRobot Create.

Kids at computer

Using Alice, children learn how to group a set of instructions for a single object into a method. They use world-level methods as well as class-level methods and learned how to call the methods created. World-level methods are created so that more than one object is used. Children create their own class-level methods for objects that didn’t have a build-in movement that the user would like to have. Children learned as well to communicate with a method using parameters such as Number, Boolean, Object, or Other (i.e. color, sound). Children’s favorite part is learning to use events and create interactive programs. Using a hands-on exercise, children learned about the control flow of an interactive program, events, event handling methods and testing. After practicing these terms on a “firefighter rescue mission”, children are asked to apply their skills in exercises such as “landing a helicopter”. During the last sessions children complete a final project that require to write their own story, and create a program for it using new methods, parameters and at least one event.

Kids with robot parts

Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 2008 is used to teach children how to drive and program the iRobot Create with Xbox360 controller in order to achieve certain goals.

The Robo Camp curriculum includes applications with the last three generations of Lego Mindstorms Robots and the iRobot Create. The older Lego RCX robots are a good place for new/beginner level students to start learning the basics of robots programming whereas the new generation of Lego NXT robots enables intermediate and advanced level students to further enhance their robot programming knowledge and skills.

Kids playing with robots

Microsoft Robotics Platform (MRP), used in Robo Camp for students that have shown exceptional skills while working with the Lego NXT robots, allows students to quickly program robots using a visual development environment, or directly by using a complex C# programming language. When working with MRP students have the option to program the real NXT robots or simulated robots in a virtual space. Programming virtual robots are a nice way to experiment on different simulated terrains. In the 2008 Robo Camp, students started to experiment, using the simulated environment, creating a specialized robot. Then, using input devices, such as Microsoft X-BOX 360 wired controller, they implemented wireless controlled robots race.