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Fri June 20, 2014
Run Robot Run!
SciWorks Radio is a production of 88.5 WFDD and SciWorks, the Science Center and Environmental Park of Forsyth County, located in Winston-Salem.
You can ask any middle schooler to name an athlete and they can name 10, but you ask them to name a single living scientist and the chance of them answering that question is slim to none.
Science is not for Albert Einstein type characters. This is for everyone.
That’s Dr. Stephen Susalka, Associate Director for Commercialization at Wake Forest Innovations. He and his team are adding excitement into Science education, using things kids love: Legos and robots.
Similar challenges are run statewide and nationally, but the Forsyth County Robot Run is specific to Forsyth County middle schools.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. But fewer and fewer kids are moving into STEM fields. So how can Lego robots help?
There is there is a themed 8X4 foot obstacle course. Last year was Natures Fury, and it involved natural disasters, how to recover from them, how to rebuild afterwards. Each of the teams create a Lego robot, they program it ahead of time, put it on the map, press start and that robot moves through the obstacle mat scoring points. The second part is the programming of the robot. Why did you program the robot to move in that direction why did you build the robot with tire tracks as opposed to wheels? So that's kind of the robot design component. The third component is a research project. So in addition to just having kids play with robots we also wanted them to reach out and delve into innovative solutions. The fourth piece is that of teamwork and cooperation. You need to be competitive, you need to build the best robot you possibly can come up with most innovative solution you possibly can, however you need to do that respectfully and you need to be supportive of others.
These kids won’t do all that work, will they?
Going to the Robot Run is a one of my favorite days every year. At 7 AM we show up, there are already kids that are just banging down the doors. They get so much from this program. They show that they can use their science and engineering book-learning and apply that knowledge to real-world problems. It's one thing to go through the concept of circumference, is a whole another thing to apply circumference to determine how far you need to move that robot.
So, the kids build robots and make them work, but how does that help those not going into STEM careers?
So the first robot never works the way they want it to. It's the second time or the third time, or the 27th time. And that stick-to-it-ness is really a lesson that can be applied to any job in the future. It actually teaches them failure.
Thomas Edison, the famous American innovator is credited with the quote “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” This is true, especially when trying to solve a problem.
The the course is designed to allow a whole host of solutions and when you look around a robot run, we’ve got 28 different teams there, you'll see every robot is completely different. They are each designed to accomplish perhaps the same task, but they do in completely different ways.
Kids learn by doing, and become more engaged when its fun.
Playing with a robot, being able to program that robot on your own is a blast. Having a robot do what you wanted to do is - just the look on their face when the robot does exactly what they want to do is just priceless. You got to just actually see it.
When you see you just walk away going “we are fine. These kids will take care of us these kids are innovative wonderful.”
The next Robot Run will be in October, however the adult Fun Run is June 27th, at Wake Forest Biotech Place in the Innovation Quarter with the SciWorks team lead by yours truly. All teams will be assisted by Middle School students. Come on by!