The Rampage

Bluestamp Engineering

Josephine Schizer

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Over the summer, the Ramaz labs were filled with busy students, all working to create gesture-controlled robots, raspberry pi cameras, boxes with musical locks, omnidirectional robots, and many other projects. For six weeks, the labs echoed with the sounds of students sharing their ideas, frustrations, and accomplishments in the course of their projects.

This summer, I was lucky enough to participate in the Bluestamp Engineering program. This program allows students to experience the entire engineering process, from choosing and planning a project through the entire process of working on it to presenting their finished work.

Once students are accepted to the program, their first step is selecting a project. In May, students are emailed a digital booklet that includes a variety of projects at different levels and in different areas of engineering. Bluestamp students have many options and are encouraged to choose a project tailored to their interests; students who have an idea that isn’t in the project book may even create a proposal for their own Student Defined Project. After narrowing their lists down to their top choices, students meet with their instructor for two hours to make a final decision about their project, assemble a Bill of Materials, and create a Build Plan. Students create these documents based on online research and documentation from past Bluestamp projects without much help from the instructors, working like real engineers. This planning allows students to start their projects as soon as they walk in on the first day.

When students arrive at Bluestamp, they first assemble a starter project, designed to take one to three days and teach students basic skills they need for their main project. Once they have completed this initial work, such as soldering, they can move on to their main project. Finally, students personalize their projects with modifications, adding specialized components to them based on their interests.

Throughout this process, one faces challenges: What should I do next? Why is this code/part/idea not working? How can I add this modification? At Bluestamp, the goal is for students to learn how to solve these problems themselves rather than turning to their instructors every time something goes wrong. An instructor will not help until the student has tried three different ways to fix the problem. The internet is an important part of this process — online videos and tutorials are helpful for solving problems, and sometimes a quick Google search provides an answer more quickly than asking an instructor would. With this methodology, students leave the program with the necessary skills  to continue creating their own projects once the program is over. When I first heard about this, it seemed slightly daunting, but over the course of the program I came to understand the benefits of this approach–it teaches students to persevere and overcome challenges creatively. When I finally finished my project, I felt so proud of it because I knew that I had done it myself with minimal assistance. The process of working through problems on your own replicates the experience of engineer, rather than a student.

In addition to their projects, Bluestamp students create a personal website over the course of the program. This website includes pictures, descriptions of their steps and challenges, and most importantly, videos of them discussing their accomplishments and challenges over the course of their projects. These videos are an important component of the Bluestamp experience, as students can document their steps and then reflect upon them later. Creating the videos also helps students practice public-speaking skills and ensures that they understand their projects well enough to explain them to others. Students also have a lab notebook that they update daily with a less formal documentation of their daily objectives, accomplishments, efforts, next steps, and more.

The Bluestamp environment is very lively and welcoming. The students (about 20 in each of the two rooms) encourage each other and are aware of  the challenges each person is going through with his or her project throughout the six weeks. The labs are filled with laughter and conversation about every topic from coding languages and tools to standardized tests and school to current events and weekend plans. The college-aged instructors (about 5 per room) also contribute to this atmosphere, offering advice about projects and joining the conversations.

Every day, there is a lecture from 12:30-1:00. Sometimes, one of the instructors teaches something code-related, but often, there are guest speakers, all of whom have roles in the engineering world. They discuss their career paths, and ideas for high school and college students who are aiming for an engineering career. These lectures allow Bluestamp students to learn not only how to engineer, but also about potential careers.

The program culminates with a Parent Showcase, where each student presents their project and explains how they built it. The showcase allows each student to exhibit their finished project after six weeks of hard work and helps them articulate their experiences.

Bluestamp is generally a half day program (either 8:30-1:00 or 12:30-5:00) that runs for six weeks, but there is also an option to do the program for only two weeks if you have conflicting summer plans. Several students, including myself, were only able to do the program for two weeks and simply adapted their projects accordingly.

Some students who attend Bluestamp have been interested in engineering their entire lives, but for many, this is their first experience with engineering. Overall, Bluestamp is a great place to learn engineering skills, think about potential career paths, and enjoy creating something on your own.

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The student newspaper of the Ramaz Upper School