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Kids At SC School Summer Camp Learn That Robotics Can Be Fun

FILE - A child's hands assembling a circuit board
Marco Verch

ROCK HILL, S.C. (AP) — Hunched over a desk, squinting as he shoves some multi-colored wires into a breadboard, Nestor Rios shyly explains his invention.

Well, it's less of an invention, and more of a solution, Rios says.

The 12-year-old who lives in Rock Hill has spent the last two weeks creating a robotic hand out of what once was a mess of plastic straws, cardboard, string and a circuit kit.

He even got his bionic hand to work properly.

That is, until he played with it too much.

"If you bend it too much, it starts to wear out, and the copper wire stops conducting," Rios said recently, pointing at different pieces as he talks. "So I thought of a way to get rid of that problem: a touch sensor."
He smiles as he presses on a new piece of copper and the cardboard hand comes to life.

So would you say, I ask him, that you out-smarted the system?

Rios cracks a proud, big smile: "Yes, yes I would."

Rios was one of about 115 students to play and learn and laugh at the Rock Hill school district's inaugural, two-week Exploration Summer Camp this month. Held at Castle Heights Middle School, rising sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth graders in the RHSD built solar cars, 3D kites, Microsoft robotic hands and other devices.

Not everyone at the camp was like Rios, whose parents are engineers and whose vision for the future is magic-adjacent. ("I see everybody sitting around, not doing anything, and then pushing a button and something appears," Rios said and laughed of his vision for the future. "You know, your car turns into a plane. Crazy stuff like that.")

Most students, rather, were introduced to robotics for the first time. Thirteen-year-old Sydnee Belton, like almost all the kids at camp, wasn't expecting to have fun when her mother signed her up to learn about robotics this summer, she said.
"I thought it was going to be a boring ... like where people were going to be teaching me like it was school," Belton said. "I actually like robotics now."

Same goes for sisters Maryan (14) and Ilyyas Mohammed (13) — who built cars that could be operated with an app on their smart phones via Bluetooth, and who turned an elephant toothpaste experiment gone awry into a beautiful arts and crafts project.
"I personally could see it being something I do just for fun," said Ilyyas.

Yes, robotics for fun.

"We're asking kids earlier and earlier to decide what they want to do," said Rock Hill Schools STEAM Coach and camp leader David Consalvi. "But they have to have a way to judge that, and part of that is up to us to give them a chance to play with things that are out there. So this is one of those opportunities.

"It's not, 'What are you going to do with the rest of your life?' (Instead) it's, 'What are you going to do for the next few days?' And I know that some of our students have found an interest and are asking about things they could do next year."
At breaks last Thursday, the last day of the camp, the kids were kids: They filmed Tik Toks featuring their new creations. They made new friends. They raced each other's cars.

Some even ran around on the Castle Heights field with their newly built kites, watching as their creations flew as high and as far as their imaginations would let them.