If you were a 12 year old with a techie bent, and someone offered you the chance to spend 3 weeks of the summer at a camp where you got to build and program robots pretty much all day, what would you say?
If you’re like the 14 students I have at just such a camp, you’d probably say, “Well, all right!” We are now in week two of Introduction to Robotics at a camp run by the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (known colloquially as just CTY). This is my 8th rodeo, and I can tell you from the instructor’s perspective, it’s intense and intensive. We move fast.
I have three of my mantras on the board. The first two are standard. “Hard fun” is my mantra from my hero Seymour Papert, and I guarantee every student will have some of this. I don’t know where the second one came from (“Fail early, fail often”), but it’s a good way to set expectations. Students at this camp are bright (that’s where the “talented” comes in), and are often the top students in their respective classes. They are used to achieving academic success as defined by most schools. They are not used to failing: having their robots fall apart, not do what they wanted them to do, lose a race, or get pushed out of the sumobot ring. But that failure is an important part of the course, and life itself, of course. As Thomas Edison said “I didn’t fail, I just found 10,000 ways it wouldn’t work.”
The third is an acronym. HOLEF stands for “Hands Off Legos, Eyes Front”. It’s my magical word for focusing attention on something everyone needs to hear or see.