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Students rock robotics

Kids refine tech skills with 4-H Robotics Club

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POSTED: March 9, 2012 9:21 a.m.
Danielle Hipps/

Members of the Liberty County 4-H program’s Robotics Club play with accessories on their robot, Agent 4, on Wednesday.

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Agent 4 isn’t quite human, but it’s got some human attributes: It can talk, it has eyes and it can move according to commands.

Agent 4 is like a class pet and project combined; it’s the cornerstone of the Liberty County 4-H program’s free Robotics Club.

Eleven students gathered at the Liberty County Extension Office on Wednesday for the club’s fourth meeting since it launched in January. During its twice-monthly meetings, club members, ages 9-12, learn how exactly the Lego Mindstorm robot works. During Wednesday’s meeting, they suggested names for the robot and voted on Agent 4.

“I think it’s important because it talks about science, engineering and technology, and that’s one of the mission mandates from the National 4-H Council,” 4-H county extension agent Kasey Bozeman said. “We’re getting kids in here. We’re doing hands-on activities that really make them get focused and excited about topics they don’t necessarily enjoy in the classroom.”

Each of the topics contributes to Agent 4’s development, she said. By the end of the school year, Agent 4 should be able to move, speak, display words or images on its “belly” and knock a ball off of a pedestal.

Jaunte Chargois, a Waldo Pafford Elementary second-grader who attends the club with his older sister, Jakayla, said he loves the class because he thinks it is fun.

“It moves by itself and it talks,” Jaunte said of the robot. “And the robot has eyes, and he can see where he’s going, so he won’t bump into anything.”

During the meeting, the club split into two groups. Each took turns working at the computer with the robot and building more parts to increase its functionality.

At the computer, the children used a software program to enter commands for Agent 4 to follow. They selected noises from a sound bank and programmed a distance for him to travel according to seconds in motion.

To send the commands to Agent 4, they connected him with a USB cable, clicked a single button, and the commands synced — similar to the transference of information to an MP3 player or smart phone.

They watched with glee as the robot rolled across the room, stopped just short of a door, let out a triumphant cry and then rolled backward the same distance. Another student programmed him to roll around in a circle 10 times.

“When a kid’s face lights up because they actually built something, and then programmed it to do something that they want it to do, it doesn’t happen every day,” Bozeman said. “How many times have you touched a robot in your life?”
Club member Walker Burns, a third-grade Joseph Martin Elementary School student, said the after-school activity is his favorite class.

“I’ve been interested in the Lego Mindstorms for a long time, and I like technology …,” Walker said. “It’s just so cool how they could invent it and find out how they can use it.”

Walker’s grandmother, Nancy Hayes, who is a former educator, came to see the class in action and she said it is “right up Walker’s alley.”

“You can tell they’re really into it,” she said. “I like the hands-on part of it, them being able to do it themselves.”

Funding for the club came from a $1,000 National 4-H Council grant sponsored by JC Penney, Bozeman said. It covered the cost of the robot, programming software, curriculum and supplemental education items. While enrollment for the current club is closed, another class starts this fall.

 

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