LEWISTON — A Bates College math student and over $6,000 in grant money has given students at Farwell Elementary School an opportunity to build robots.

Children spend one hour each week designing, building and programmings LEGO Mindstorm robots. 

“The robots have been pretty engaging,” said Camden Bock, the sophomore math major who is teaching the lab. 

“A lot of the students have commented on how it does not feel like school,” Bock said.

On a recent Thursday, students entered the room, gathered their works-in-progress and got down to building without being prompted by Bock. 

“It keeps me focused,” said fifth-grader Lucas Barry-Guenou, 11. “It’s just right; it’s not hard or easy. Sometimes it’s hard, though.”

Barry-Guenou built his robot prototype to aid search-and-rescue missions during a hurricane. “At first I got confused, but then I got used to it,” Barry-Guenou said of the complexity of LEGO Mindstorm. 

Students who would most benefit from a hands-on environment were selected to participate, third-grade teacher Heather Bucklin said. 

Twenty-four students from grades three, four and five finished the first five-week session. A second session with new students started in May.

“My goal is to be able to reach children in different and deeper ways than we can in the classroom,” Bucklin said. “STEM projects can be motivational.” 

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

“I like math, but sometimes it’s not my friend,” said Sage Cormier, a 10-year-old fifth-grader. 

Cormier is designing her robot to help bring supplies to flood victims. 

Cormier enjoys learning by doing. “I wish I had more hands-on work,” she said. 

“I try to give them some structure while allowing them to explore,” Bock said. “The kids have a lot of good ideas. They have a perspective that many computer scientists would not have.” 

Bock chose education as his minor and volunteers in Bucklin’s class as part of the Bates College field placement program. 

“My main goal is to teach the students problem-solving and persistence,” Bock said. “They can use both in all careers. I can’t imagine an employer who does not want that.

“We initially scrambled to get $300,” Bock said of seed money to get the program started. 

Each Mindstorm kit costs about $350. A kit expansion costs $100. 

The Lewiston Education Fund, Bates College and BAE Systems awarded grants totaling $6,400 to fund the STEM lab.  

“I would love for this to be an after-school activity,” Bock said. “Most of them don’t want to leave at the end.”

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