STARBASE Inspiring Summer Camps Build STEM Skills
by U.S. Air
Force/Air National Guard John Hughel
Oregon Military Department Public Affairs
August 2, 2022
For children, playing and learning can take
shape in many forms, whether it comes through artistic expression or
scientific discovery. For kids attending the STARBASE summer camps
in Oregon, having fun comes from eager experimentation and testing
Over a three-day summer camp from July
12-14, 2022 nearly a dozen children from the Hermiston area
sharpened their creative designs and engineering abilities during
the BattleBot Camp at STARBASE Umatilla. The class allows 4th
through 7th graders a chance to build STEM skills in a hands-on and
exciting interactive atmosphere.
Staff members of STARBASE Umatilla,
observe students attending the STARBASE BattleBot take part in the Battle Royale on July 14,
2022 during the three-day camp held at Camp Umatilla, Oregon. The Department of Defense's STARBASE program provides underserved students in the U.S. an opportunity to explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in a stimulating community based outreach program. (U.S. Air Force/Air National Guard photo by John Hughel, Oregon Military Department Public Affairs)
The Department of Defense's STARBASE
program provides underserved students in the U.S. an opportunity to
explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in a
stimulating community based outreach program.
“When the kids
first walk in the classroom, they can be somewhat intimidated, but
right away we start with concepts and the design wheel, introducing
why it’s okay to fail -- because by failing you learn something,”
said Denise Kortes, State Director for STARBASE Oregon.
BattleBot summer camps are aimed at getting kids over those initial
classroom pressures by allowing time to design, practice, test and
rebuild their robots beginning with basic turning movements, then
onto inclined planes and an obstacle course. The final day is a
bracket style tournament and a no holds barred battle royale using
their Lego robots.
“They think they are just having fun, but
right away they are learning not only about robotics and physics,
but learning how to overcome setbacks through trial and error,”
During her 10 years with STARBASE education,
Kortes has not just seen the program grow, but has witnessed the
lasting impact it has made on the students who attend the summer
camps and programs during the school year.
“We have things
that kids can experiment with that some of the schools in the area
cannot afford,” she further explained. “In 2014 we started using
iPads because they saved paper and printing cost, and were more
interactive for the students. It also took time to print out
booklets and, really, the kids were not that interested in using
those materials. Once we introduced the work on iPads, it only
enhanced their interest in technology.”
The STARBASE Academy
at Camp Umatilla is the fourth and newest Academy in the state of
Oregon, opening last year. In 2019 Camp Rilea in Warrenton was
added, joining the two established Academies at the Portland Air
National Guard Base and Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls.
“Oregon is one of the few states that has four academies,” Kortes
said. “Just in Portland, we’re seeing 60 school classes from
different public schools in an academic year, where the kids are
getting 25 hours of work during those five days in the classroom.”
There is no testing or grades. Therefore, everything the kids do
in the program is a success because the program is designed around
innovation and working in groups to develop solutions.
first day they arrive, the kids work on the programming aspect of
robot building, which includes sensors to get their robots to
function with automatic controls,” said Colin Haines, who has served
as the Deputy Director of STARBASE Umatilla since the site opened
two years ago. “The second two days are focused on engineering, so
that their robots are agile, and can battle each other.”
Students attending the STARBASE BattleBot camp use iPads to program their robots on July 12,
2022 during the three-day camp at Camp Umatilla, Oregon.
(U.S. Air Force/Air National Guard photo by John Hughel, Oregon Military Department Public Affairs)
The excitement during each
testing phase is matched when the campers work on modifications.
Each child builds their own robot, but they also work with a partner
to share ideas and strategize for the BattleBot
“The combination of coding and engineering is
really where they develop academically,” Haines said.
small class size of 10 to 12 campers helps Haines both teach the
class and offer one-on-one feedback the campers have. Each team of
two has their own table, upon which they can assemble the motors,
Lego parts and other pieces to build the ultimate BattleBot robot.
“Teamwork is key,” Haines said. “Number one, it gives them
confidence, and secondly, social learning is often the best
learning. Collaboration gives them multiple ideas. They turn the
learning into play.”
Haines said the BattleBot camp needs to
be exciting given all the other choices kids have for summer fun.
“We really need to go above and beyond the fun level because
they could be playing baseball or at home with video games,” he
Alexander Gonzalez, a 6th grader at Sandstone Middle
School in Hermiston, was one of those campers eager to attend -- and
equally excited to talk about all the distinctive features of his
automaton, “Walking Brick.”
“The way I built it was to put a
scoop on the back and front, then a shield so the other robots can’t
hit it,” he explained. “I also put a hammer on the back to attack
with but made sure it is protected on the sides.”
the camp with his sister Gissel Gonzalez, an 8th grader, who also
attends Sandstone Middle School. But for the BattleBot camp, they
were on opposing teams.
“I put a ramp on my robot to scoop
and lift up others,” Gissel said, highlighting a dissimilar design
for her robot, “King Bob.”
The design was good enough to
have her advance to the semi-finals. She took a quick lunch break,
so she could make some last minute changes for the finals. This week
at camp was Gissel and Alexander’s first time attending a STARBASE
class, but both are excited about returning in the future.
“We were able to make our robots better and better by trying out new
designs,” Gissel said. “In school, I hope to get more of this kind
of training in technology.”
This is another aspect with the
STARBASE program, which helps bridge those gaps that some schools
are missing in STEM education.
“When you can get kids to
accidently learn something when they are goofing around, that’s a
real win,” Haines said. “That just makes you feel good to know these
kids want to actively stay engaged…we live for that ‘Ah ha moment,’
when they connect to something new.”
Prior to becoming an
instructor for STARBASE, Haines had worked as a school teacher after
leaving the U.S. Army, where he spent 10 years as a medic. He said
being back on a military post feels supportive too.
STARBASE Umatilla Oregon Director Denise Kortes and Deputy
Director Colin Haines observe students attending the STARBASE BattleBot
participating in the Battle Royale on July 13,
2022 during the three-day camp held at Camp Umatilla, Oregon. (U.S. Air Force/Air National Guard photo by John Hughel, Oregon Military Department Public Affairs)
great seeing uniformed soldiers again,” he said. “It feels homey ... I
In many ways, Camp Umatilla is going through a
comparable renaissance. Originally built in 1940 as the Umatilla
Army Chemical Depot, it comprised 1,001 concrete igloos, with
grounds for testing, demolition, and disposal of weapons. In 2005
Camp Umatilla began the process of transferring over 7,500 acres to
the Oregon National Guard, now renovating the post to accommodate
new training missions.
STARBASE is just one of those new
missions at Camp Umatilla, and it has already made a positive
contribution to the community in Eastern Oregon.
school year, we’re infinitely more fun than a regular classroom,”
Haines said. “That’s one reason this place is really special.”
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