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CPS students, families learn science ‘side-by-side’ in robot race

Krislyn Simpson and Khoudia Sall competed against each other at the robotics challenge at Dyett High School for the Arts in Chicago, on Thursday, July 27, 2017. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

A robot competition turned into a family affair on Thursday.

Four teams, made up of Chicago Public Schools students and their family members, sparred for first place in a race of the student-made robots as part of “Robomatics Day” in Bronzeville.

Krislyn Simpson, 11, maneuvered her cyborg with her dad and two brothers. The robot picked up bright orange and blue blocks in the center of a table, and then placed them in different places for maximum points. Referees wearing black-and-white striped uniforms stood by.

The robotics challenge tested the teamwork of Ricky Simpson and his daughter Krislyn at Dyett High School for the Arts on Thursday, July 27, 2017. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

The Simpsons took first place.

“Outside of this we hang out a lot,” said Krislyn’s father, Ricky Simpson. “But doing this, it shows them they can take an idea and make that come into something else.”

“We bonded a lot,” Krislyn said.

After the fact, Krislyn stood chatting and laughing with her friend Khoudia Sall, also 11 — who moments before had been her competitor. The two met at this camp called Family University, a three-week summer engagement opportunity for students and their families running from July 10 to Aug. 3.

The students learned how to build the robots at the camp, starting with a main body and adding on elements such as wheels and ropes, Khoudia said.

The camp, free of cost, meets at the Parent University Bronzeville Campus, at the Dyett High School for the Arts, 555 E. 51st St. Three days a week, 32 students gather there to explore subjects from coding to the arts.

Marquis Merritt moves the balloon with his robot into position during the robotics challenge as his mother, Angela Spencer, and brother, Maurice watch. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

They come from CPS schools including Dyett High School, Andrew Carnegie Elementary School, Reavis Elementary, Vanderpoel Elementary and more.

Camp leaders then brought in another element: families.

“Side-by-side” learning brings students and their family members together to tackle new topics, said Kisalan Glover, the program’s leader. Students ages 8 to 18 competed at Robomatics Day.

Robots are also the hottest topic in STEM education right now, he said.

“We changed the conversation at the dinner table,” Glover said. “When they go home tonight, I think that what they talk about will be what they did today.”