Kids Come FIRST at the Liberty Science Center.
Newton Robotics Team 3142 knows that the best way to help keep the United States in the forefront of science and technology is to educate the youngest in our communities and get them excited about the sciences. With our Kids Come FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) program and our robot, SnAperture, our robotics team did just that by spending a day engaging youngsters at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Aperture, as our team is known amongst the FIRST robotics community, has been recognized as a leader in bringing awareness of the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) to our community. Our team was invited to continue our outreach efforts by demonstrating our Frisbee playing robot along with two other area teams at LSC. While Team 3314 – Mechanical Mustangs’ robot tossed Frisbees for kids to catch, Team 56 – Robbe Xtreme and Team 3142 – Aperture taught kids how to operate robots at the drivers’ station. Aperture’s techno-green target board gave the youngsters an opportunity to test their skills at target shooting as well as driving.
The Kids Come FIRST program that Aperture has developed taps into various learning styles to ensure that kids get a real feel for what robotics involves. As each child sits at the drivers’ station they use their auditory senses to receive instructions from the team trainer. These instructions include how the controls are manipulated, what each joystick controls, how the robot will respond, as well as the subtleties of getting the Frisbee into the target.
The auditory instructions are enhanced with visual cues as the team trainer demonstrates how the controls work. Of course, the best part for the kids is the tactile manipulation. Getting their hands on the robot and making it move and shoot is what they line up for. Controlling the robot requires hand-eye coordination while at the same time kids must listen to instructions from the trainer. For the trainer, the best part is seeing their young trainees get excited when the robot shoots the Frisbees into the target under their control. Hands go up, cheers are heard from the audience, and high-fives are exchanged. A sense of accomplishment, pride, and huge smiles replace the look of intense concentration that just moments before graced these young faces.
Aperture trainers do not stop their tutorial with how to operate the robot but also let their young trainees know the importance of their sense of smell. Being able to identify burning rubber and chemicals is extremely important in safeguarding the robot and its technicians. While the sense of taste is not used, baking soda, a common ingredient used in baking, is. Aperture team members undergo a mandatory safety training session on the first official day of their season and learn that baking soda puts out electrical and chemical fires.
Throughout the day, guests at LSC witnessed team mechanics inspecting the robot and checking for hazards that could create a fire. Young guests learned what the mechanics look for, why they use a “Kill Switch” on the robot, and the importance of wearing safety glasses and having safety equipment at the ready. While some visitors just want a chance to drive the 120 pound robot, Aperture members know that other visitors want a more comprehensive experience and the team does not disappoint.
A trade show-like area, set up by the team for visitors to walk through, greeted LSC guests as they reached the second floor. Team ambassadors wearing their techno-green and black team colors welcomed the young visitors and their parents by presenting them with a team button.
A new button, it was explained, is created at the start of each season and is exchanged by teams during the various levels of competition. It is not an unusual site to see competitors walking around at competitions with hundreds of buttons pinned to their team apparel. The guests chose the button of their choice with the favorite being the new kids button featuring the Love
FIRST Robot designed especially for the Kids Come FIRST program.
Buttons were then pinned on the “new team members” who were invited to the team’s Kids Come FIRST Activity Table where they could gather crayons and fun activity sheets to work on after test driving the robot and looking at the museum’s exhibits.
Veteran team members and trainers spent the day talking about the team, robot, and competitions and tried to answer the most commonly asked question from parents, “How can I get my child involved in robotics?”
Not too long ago robotics was a radical new course offered to graduate students at our most prestigious universities specializing in technology. Now it is finding its way into our high schools through FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) and robotics classes and at the middle schools through programs such as FLL (FIRST LEGO League) and FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge.) With the help of Aperture, even the very youngest in our communities are learning how much fun robotics can be and are being set on a path to becoming our future STEM leaders.