MEMBERTOU — A unique summer camp was hosted by IBM for the first time in an Indigenous community in Cape Breton.
About 15 Indigenous youth entering Grades 6 to 8 spent the past week learning various aspects of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — at Membertou’s elementary school.
It’s only the second time employees from IBM’s client innovation centre in Bedford have held a summer camp in Cape Breton.
Val Lemay, who is the STEM youth co-ordinator for the IBM client innovation centre, said it was a “great opportunity” to pique the interest of students in the science and technology fields.
“I think STEM is slowly becoming more and more incorporated into school curriculums, which is great, and we just want to show them the opportunities they have with STEM-related interests and STEM-related fields and how the careers are really endless,” she said.
Early in the camp, the students conducted a fruit DNA experiment and covered a section on snap circuits where the children learned about electricity and how to make their own circuits using fans and light bulbs.
They also learned the basics of scratch coding on the school’s laptop computers and took a field trip to the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Baddeck.
On Thursday, Acadia University robotics director Gary Walsh explained, demonstrated and allowed the students to plug in computer commands enabling them to operate an EV3 (evolution 3) robot.
“This is what I love doing,” Walsh said. “One of the most fun parts of my job is the outreach with the kids.”
The Lego Mindstorms robots used by the students in Membertou are used in the First Lego League for nine- to 14-year olds. Competitions are held regionally at five Nova Scotia Community College campuses across the province — one of them held at the Marconi campus in Sydney — and top competitors then head to Acadia University each February to compete.
Walsh said the robots bring a “good strong foundation” of interest and intrigue to youth studying science.
“You might even look at it like a little hook because the robotics is the fun element that’ll eventually, hopefully, lead to something where because of the teamwork they use and the creativity and innovation they use to perfect their skills here, might interest them in a career in science someday.”
Bryson Morrison of Potlotek First Nation was the first in the program to program his robot to move forward in a straight line. The simple exercise brought a smile to his face.
“I like learning new stuff every day when I come here,” he said, adding he’s keen on science as a school subject.
Like Morrison’s lab partner, Liela Doucette of Membertou, this is his first time participating in a summer camp.
Doucette said using the robots has been the most entertaining part of the camp.
“They can move with computer stuff,” she said. “It’s cool.”
And it wasn’t her first time using robotics. A couple of months ago, Doucette and her schoolmates used iPads to send instructions to robots in the school gymnasium.
“I’d like to learn more about it and … learn how to do it on my own.”
Students in the summer camp spent Friday playing math bingo and figuring out how to calculate the area of their hands. The camp wrapped up with a tour of the Fortress Louisbourg.
The Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office played a role in bringing the IBM summer camp to Membertou.
Membertou Chief Terry Paul referred to the STEM camp as one way of “building Membertou’s future workforce.”