Fun Bot Lab brings robotics to summer campers at three Catholic schools

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When Jessica Davis asked her children where they wanted to go for summer camp this year, the answer came with no hesitation — Fun Bot Lab. 

"We don’t know what the future will be when it comes to technology but we can make a guess as to the core skills that will be needed no matter what." -Timothy Burns

The robotics camp located at St. Luke School in McLean was developed by Timothy Burns, certified trainer for LEGO education and former teacher at St. Luke. The camp teaches children from kindergarten to eighth-grade about programing, engineering and animation through engaging projects and challenges, while also providing all the fun outdoor activities of a typical summer camp. 

Burns started the Fun Bot Lab program nine years ago and recently has expanded to two new locations, Holy Spirit School in Annandale and St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington. This year alone, Fun Bot Lab has 440 kids between the three locations with more than 50 of those campers attending multiple week long sessions. 

Campers at each location are divided up according to their age group and guided through the different activities by counselors with experience in robotics and programing. When the campers get stuck on a problem with their projects, the counselors are trained to help the campers think through the problem, instead of giving them the answer. 

“Algorithmic thinking is really important,” said Burns. “We feel like we have a mission to prepare kids for the future. We don’t know what the future will be when it comes to technology but we can make a guess as to the core skills that will be needed no matter what.”

Using Mindstorm Legos and Lego programing apps, the Fun Bot Lab team strives to do just that. Working year round, the staff develops custom-designed Lego obstacle courses to keep the campers’ interest and sharpen their skills week after week, year after year. Some of the more complex challenges involve color and line sensors to guide the robots. 

In the challenge room, Elizabeth Davis, 7, watched with anticipation as her creation inched towards a line of yellow tape, which, if the robot was programed correctly, would allow it to navigate around obstacles. Every unexpected collision sends campers like Davis back to the programing room to root out the bugs. Those who make it through the challenges get cheers and high fives, while also earning tickets. Davis was one of the first out of all the age groups to complete this year’s hardest challenge. 

“It’s fun to program (the robots) after you ­­make them,” she said. “I like practicing the challenges.”

Parents are excited to find a camp that challenges their children acade­mically during the summer under the disguise of fun with Legos. It is preparing them for the skills they need in the future. 

“I would really love to attend this camp again,” said 11-year-old Lee Davis. “It has been an awesome experience with all the programing and meeting new friends. It’s just awesome.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017