Lego robots transported marbles. Pingpong balls went hurtling down hallways. Tongue depressors, glue, bobbins, string and CDs were transformed into machines that lifted nuts and washers in a plastic cup.
All the while, young minds whirred.
Sixty Treasure Valley students signed up to spend three days this week at Micron Foundations 12th edition of Chip Camp, an effort to excite seventh- and eighth-graders about the possibilities of computer programming, inventing, and collecting and analyzing data with hands-on fun.
We are going to make this work, guys, said Samantha Kraus, 13, of Boise as she encouraged the three other girls on her team who were putting the finishing touches on a 45-minute-old invention to lift small bits of hardware. They drilled, glued, cut and tied until they had made an 18-inch-high contraption.
But not without problems.
(We) had to come up with a base, said Sabrina Mooers, 13, of Caldwell. Now the bobbins keep moving all over the place.
While Kraus, Mooers and their teammates worked on solutions, they learned other things as well, said John Smythe, a Chip Camp volunteer and Micron Technology employee in research and development. The exercise is about building teams, collaborating, resource management and thinking, Smythe said: The idea is you are never too young to be inventive.
But experimenting with how far a catapult will fling a pingpong ball or how to program a robot comes with serious economic goals.
Idaho is working to increase the number of students who will choose careers in science, technology, math and engineering (collectively called STEM) as a way to create high-paying jobs, said Dee Mooney, Micron Foundation executive director.
Micron Technology, a memory-chip maker with more than 5,000 employees in Boise, has long backed more STEM education. It needs computer engineers as mainstays of its workforce.
The Idaho Department of Labor says Idaho has more than 85,000 jobs requiring backgrounds in STEM education. That number could increase by 20 percent, or 17,250, over the next decade.
Schools are gearing up. Boise State University has a program that puts beginning engineering students into hands-on projects in hopes that it will ignite their imaginations for what a career in engineering can do. At Galileo Math and Science Magnet School in Eagle, students learn how to build mechanical robots out of wood and plastic. Galileo has 800 students and 500 more on a waiting list.
STEM programs arent uniform around the state. Business and education leaders are beginning to develop plans that could increase them.
Microns Chip Camp is one attempt to fuel student excitement for STEM education. These kids will hopefully have a better understanding of math and science and what they can do with them from a career perspective, Mooney said.
Some students, like Mooers, will need little prodding. She said she loves to tinker and take parts from things that are broken and put them to a new use.
As her team finished its lifting device they named it the Pull-O-Matic Mooers said she was eagerly looking forward to another class at the camp.
Actually what Im really waiting for is robotic programming, she said. In first grade, I watched something on PBS about robotics. Ever since then, Ive been really interested.
Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts