Kid learns programming by reading instructions to “Robot Grace” on how to make a PB&J sandwich
On April 27, the Discovery Museum is teeming with kids of all sizes, who can barely control their excitement as they get a chance to play with robots and an abundance of interactive educational toys.
As part of the Northern Nevada Science and Technology Festival, the Discovery Museum hosted “Rock the Robots!” Giving families free access to a variety of hands-on activities and exhibits for all things science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM).
In the lobby on the main level, a teen with a remote control shoots a basketball from a medium-sized metal-arm robot into the arms of a little girl, while another kid pedales the “power bike” in the corner hard to light up the LED bulb board. In the opposite corner, the Washoe County Library System is teaching kids the basics of coding by letting them make “binary bracelets.”
There is plenty to see and do during “Robots Rock!” It so happened that you need a map to get around. In the exhibition room, something resembling a Battle Bot called Tommy extends an arm made of tape measure with a red single cup on the end and places it on a hook. This robot took 20 days to build, VC Silver Circuits member Annika Iris told me, then referred to “Bob,” a similar robot who won the state championship at the latest Nevada Tech Challenge event with FTC Robotics Team #16158. VC Silver Circuits have 11 Members who work as programmers, builders, and staff, spend the school year building and documenting the robot.
“They have to give a presentation to the judges,” says trainer Michelle Adkins, pointing to the large cover full of pages and tabs highlighting the building, programming and functionality of the robot, a report that could rival any major business plan. Bob’s creation and documentation allowed him to receive the Inspire Award, a noteworthy recognition in the Nevada world of robotics.
“It’s fun to see them interact and our team learn how to handle the little ones too,” Adkins says, as a few VC Silver Circuits mingle around the room, allowing the little ones to steer and play with the robots. Adkins has been with FIRST Nevada for four years and has two children on the show (another will join soon).
Kids go on to become mechanical or electrical engineers, learning the basics and then go out and do “whatever they want” with their lives, says Adkins. According to its website, FIRST Nevada’s mission is to inspire Nevada youth to become leaders in technology and science by engaging them in exciting STEM programs that inspire innovation, self-confidence, and leadership. Its data shows that 98 percent of its members improved their problem-solving skills and 87 percent were more likely to major in engineering or science.
When asked about her favorite part of being involved with this state award winning team, Adkins replied, “Seeing their creative minds working and what they create, the excitement. They are learning and it’s something they can use for their future while having fun.” Adkins adds that the team acquired a 3D printer which allowed them to learn crafting skills. “They took that and ran with it this year.” Since Adkins also homeschools her kids, she believes that attending events like robotics competitions and community outreach helps give them a social outlet, too.
At another station in the same room, a woman shows two first graders how to guide a Lego car on a track using a computer while two other boys play with KEVA boards. In the next room, DRI Nevada Robotics has an interactive game that includes sensory cubes designed to help people think, act, and feel.
“You guys can go to another station,” joked the companions to two elementary school-aged boys who had been playing with blocks for a long time. “I always tell parents, ‘You have the Christmas list going,'” she adds.
As they roam the next room, two kids are coloring at the Robot Art Station and others playing with an oversized magnet, shooting wooden balls down the roller coaster line, putting little plastic umbrellas on a vertical flute and watching them toss. The shop next to Da Vinci’s Corner is full of people, kids and parents using reflective tape, rolls of cardboard and other materials to build robots and rockets.
On the lower level, a volunteer named Grace is in the Blue Party Room at the “Program A Human ‘Robot’ to Make a PBJ Sandwich” activity. This humanoid robot relies on detailed written instructions to successfully make a peanut butter and jam sandwich, allowing kids (and their parents) to see what went wrong with their coding when Grace does exactly what they tell her to do.
The children and local families were spending a day playing with the robots, all the activities had an educational character. It will be interesting to see what this generation of North Nevadan residents do twenty years from now.