Friday, March 18, 2011

Inspiring the Next Generation - Teaching Robotics

Part of the ICEX goals this year have been reaching out to elementary school aged children and introducing them to robotics and inspiring them to go into science and technology fields. During the quarter back at Cal Poly, we visited two different 2nd grade classrooms at Pacheco elementary school every Wednesday. We switched off between the classrooms and had hands-on lessons that talked about design, testing and programming. It was very successful. The kids seemed to really enjoy it and retain a lot of what we taught. We even got a book of thank you notes written by all the students afterward – a nice touch.

Originally, that was going to be the extent of our outreach. At the suggestion of Timmy though, we packed a suitcase full of little robots so we could continue the lessons at several Maltese grade schools. We started off with a brief lecture about different types of robots and introduced the robots we brought and the paper disks used to program them.

The disks we used were small circular pieces of paper (that we had to individually cut out beforehand). The robots have two sensors that read the disk as it rotates and determines if the 2 rows of squares are black or white. Depending on the combination of black and white, the robot will go forward, stop, or turn left or right.

We then broke the students into groups of 3-4 and let them each “program” the robot to navigate a simple maze we created on the floor with tape by coloring disks with black pencils and pens. Overall, the students were very excited about it and there were several students who even inquired about where they could get their own robot so they could do more on their own.

It was encouraging to be so enthusiastically received by both the students and faculty of the schools and in addition to being a good educational experience for the students there, it was a great experience for the ICEX team as well to be able to talk with so many students (who represented a variety of ethnic backgrounds).

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