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Robotic projects make learning fun, exciting
Students across the state are hitting the books and buckling down for a great school year. Likewise, teachers across the state are engaging youth in science, technology, engineering and math activities…but there are only so many hours in a school day, and teachers cannot do it all.
Groups like Mississippi 4-H can help fill in the gap and interest kids in careers in technology fields. The Mississippi State University Extension Service’s 4-H youth program partners with local organizations to bring robotics to the classroom and after-school clubs.
We often hear negative statistics on education in Mississippi, but the nationwide statistics on careers in math and science are startling. Did you know that in 2010, nearly 90 percent of all engineers were located in Asia? Furthermore, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 15 of the 20 fastest-growing job sectors require significant mathematics or science training.
Thankfully, robotics has been gaining popularity across the country with school-age children, and children in Mississippi are no different. Local 4-H clubs can get involved with the Lego WeDo robotics kit, the Lego Mindstorms robotics kit, or the Tetrix robotics kit from their county Extension offices. They can build robotic animals for the Mississippi State Fair in October or gear up for some friendly competition in May.
The WeDo robots are for kindergarteners through second graders, and they help kids fall in love with the idea of building and programming robots. Research suggests that girls start deciding between kindergarten and first grade whether science, technology, engineering and math classes are for them or not. Boys usually hold off until third or fourth grade, but the younger we can start children on the technology path, the better off the kids will be.
Lego Mindstorms robots are generally used for third through eighth graders and involve more complicated projects. After building the robots, children program them. Youth can begin learning very basic programming by using the programming blocks found in the Lego Mindstorms software.
Once youth have mastered the finer points of building and programming with the Lego Mindstorm, it is time to get serious with Tetrix robots and C programming language. This is the last stop before college, and these robots are usually used with high school students only.
Mississippi youth are holding their own when it comes to robotics. They participate in various competitions throughout the state, such as the First Lego League competition at the Stennis Space Center on the Gulf Coast, the BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology) robotics competition at the MSU Bagley College of Engineering and the SeaPerch robotics competition, also held by the MSU Bagley College of Engineering.
Competition is fun, but robotics is so much more. It gives youth the tools to work through difficult problems together, the courage to face the unknown, and the confidence to believe in themselves. This year, get down to the nuts and bolts of robotics with your child and discover the possibilities. Upcoming events for the fall include the Robot Round-Up at the Mississippi State Fair, the First Lego League competition and the BEST robotics competition. Find your place and boot up for an exciting adventure.