Students learn problems solving skills in LEGO seminar

by: MICHELLE BERTALOT/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Students partcipated Tuesday in a LEGO robotics seminar out on at the 4-H Clover building at the Crook County Fairgrounds. Shown in the photo above, Sarah Cofer looks on as (left) Daniel Knower and Corey Ray try to attach a robotic arm to a vehicle.

Last Tuesday, fourth and fifth grade Crook County students gathered at the 4-H Clover Building with one thing in mind: To build a robot.
   To kickoff the seminar, Sarah Cofer had her students build a robot, then program it to run into the wall. Although the destruction may sound fun, it was also a learning experience.
   Cofer explained how it is important for the robots to be "structurally sound" and not have pieces fly off, just in case they manage to run into the wall again.
   "Luckily, these are just LEGOs and are pretty much indestructible," said Tom Story, a parent who attended the seminar.
   The six boys' ultimate goal was to make as many baskets with their programmed-robot in a two-minute time period.
   Participants worked in teams of two, which at a young age can sometimes be a little challenging.
   "Working in teams is hard isn't it?" Cofer asked a team.
   "Just frustrating," replied fifth-grade student Corey Ray.
   Encouraging the six boys to work together, after lunch the teams were mixed up.
   During the eight-hour LEGO robotics seminar, the teams used three different motors and touch and light sensors to direct their robot.
   Groups used their problem solving skills to solve programming and structural issues that would occur.
   "I think it's hard to build it just right so it will run like it's supposed to," said Ray.
   The motors could be programmed for different speeds and amount of power. The builders used a computer program called "RoboLab Pilot" to program the robot's movement.
   Cofer listed that the participants were learning analytical and problem solving skills, structural design, and "how to fix something after it's been demolished."
   "They are learning social skills, and how to work with others," Story added.
   The goal of programming and building the robot to make a basket was easier said than done.
   Two of the teams used arms to throw the ball into the basket, but a third team tried a "loading ramp" to deliver the ball.
   "We hope this works better," said Dylan Jolley, a fifth-grade student.
   If a team's members made a "basket" they were awarded 10 points, but if they made it in the narrow, centered target, 50 points were awarded. Story believes the seminar sparked interest in the participants and possibly could lead to future careers.
   "It could lead them into robotics in the future if it clicks with one of them," Story said.
   The seminar was open to 4-H members for a $5 cost, and non-members for a $10 fee.
   The Crook County OSU Extension office plans on doing a LEGO robotics seminar once a month. Although there is not a date set for January yet, Dana Martin, OSU Extension faculty, expects it will be towards the end of January on a Saturday.
   "Instead of basketball robotics they will be doing hockey," Martin said.
   The extension office is working on offering more classes involving technology, including classes on Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and digital photography.
   "We're really excited. We had a slogan one time, it was '4-H: More than you ever imagine.' If there's an interest out there, and we can find a curriculum and leader, we'll have it," Martin said.
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