Lego robots a hit in the Helios Science Pavilion at this year's Tucson Festival of BooksBy Steve Delgado - March 14, 2011, 6:27 pm
Hundreds of enthusiastic kids -- and their parents -- used their math skills to race Lego robots in the Helios Science Pavilion at this year's Tucson Festival of Books.
Visitors to the science pavilion, sponsored this year by the Helios Education Foundation, which supports math, science and engineering education statewide, were treated not only with robots from the UA RoboClub but with dozens of science- and engineering-themed hands-on activities from UA Science, UA Optical Science, UA College of Engineering, Raytheon's MathMovesU and more. The Helios Science Pavilion is presented by the BIO5 Institute.
Kids who visited the UA RoboClub station had to use their "math muscles" by answering math problems on their individual remote control to get their Lego robots to move. The robots – one outfitted as a tortoise, the other a hare, recreating the classic race between these two longtime rivals – would move forward when the controller answered the math question correctly. An incorrect answer would move the robot slightly backwards, giving the advantage to the opponent.
"I think this worked very well," said Eniko Enikov, founder of the UA RoboClub and professor at the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department at UA College of Engineering. "We believe it was helpful for educators, teachers and parents from the community to see a way to combine literacy with engineering and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.”
A live demonstration of the Lego robots included a reading by Diane Daly, a UA Information Resources and Library Science grad student, who told a story involving the Disney/Pixar character "Wall-e." Daly's storytelling introduced the Lego robots outfitted as "Wall-e" lookalikes and their mission: to pick up trash scattered all around the stage area and deposit it in its proper place.
"Computer programming may be our most universal language in the 21st Century, and robots like these are an excellent way to get young people started on paths toward basic literacy in computer programming, as well as engineering," Daly said. "It's time to expand our definition of literacy to include understanding of the use of these types of devices… the more we use these devices in conjunction with literature for children, the better we are preparing children for modern communication."
This year's festival hosted an estimated 100,000 attendees intermingling with over 450 authors and performers, on and around the University of Arizona mall March 12 and 13. This was the third year for the increasingly popular event, which raises money for children's literacy efforts in Arizona.
The UA Lego Robotics Outreach Club, or UA RoboClub, was formed in 2008 by mechanical engineering students at the AME department of the UA College of Engineering to promote engineering, science and math education using Lego materials as a teaching tool. The club also teaches the UA Summer Robotics Workshops, a series of two-day Lego NXT workshops available to students entering grades 5–8 and 9–11 who are interested in Lego-based interactive lessons structured as engineering design projects. The objective of the workshops is to encourage children to follow careers in technology and engineering. The 2011 robotics workshops are scheduled for the summer beginning May 16, 2011.
More information on the two-day UA Summer Robotics Workshops which begin May 16, 2011 is on the UA RoboClub website.
More exciting photos from the Helios Education Foundation Science Pavilion 2011 can be found on the UA College of Engineering Facebook page.
Information on the week-long Summer Engineering Robotics Camp from UA College of Engineering which begins June 13, 2011.