What kid doesn’t want a robot?
Even before the word robot was first used, in a 1921 Czech play, people fantasized about having a mechanical creation to do their work.
Now, in Gilroy, children can actually make that fantasy come true.
The Gilroy Library has a program where kids learn to build and program robots. It debuted last week to cheers from a group of 12 children under 10 years old.
Librarians Lisa Duff and Kelly McKean hosted the first official Robot Club meeting at the library on April 5.
“I’d been looking at having robots in the library for over a year now,” said McKean. “We’ve been reading a lot of things, and tried some stuff out, but this is our first time with a large group putting it into practice.”
The program consists of two phases: the first (which took place last week) introduces coding, the electronic language used by anything computerized; the second phase is hands-on programming.
“The goal of the whole program is that every lesson we do is aligned to Common Core standards, so there are some learning expectations there,” Duff said.
Common Core is a set of high academic standards in math and English that outline what a student should know and be able to do at the completion of each grade. Most states have their own Common Core standards.
Programs that combine science, technology, engineering, art and math (creating the acronym STEAM) are innovative approaches to education. Teaching robotics to children is an example of such a program.
“It will feel like they’re coming in and just playing with robots, that’s what we hope it will feel like for the kids, but they’re also learning something,” McKean said.
At the April 5 session, the kids were divided into six pairs, with each pair receiving their own robot and iPad.
Funds to purchase these materials were provided by a grant from the Pacific Library Partnership (PLP), from the Santa Clara County Library District. The $15,000 grant was awarded to Gilroy Library for its STEAM Powered Robots and Beyond proposal. The library will use the money to create and maintain an innovative robotics program for kids in kindergarten and above.
“We did maker camp this past summer and we realized that our kids didn’t have the same exposure that some of the other children in our library district do to technology and to STEAM kind of products,” McKean said.
Thanks to the PLP innovation grant, the library can move forward with programs aimed at all ages.
“Originally it was just robotics for teens and middle school, but the grant was good enough that we were able to expand that,” McKean said.
The April 5 session began with a coding lesson that challenged the kids’ math skills. Each group was given addition and subtraction questions, and their answers were then entered into the iPads, programing the robots, Dot and Dash, to move specific distances. If the robot ended on the predetermined destination, the calculations entered were correct.
A few of the groups hit the mark on their first try, while others were not as successful.
“Failure is what we want, you learn by failing,” McKean said.
“They use their math and see that getting something wrong isn’t a bad thing, it’s a way to learn.”
McKean and Duff will attend a training program at the Robotics Academy at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in June, where they will learn to present the CMU Robotics Academy curriculum as well as the Lego EV3 robots used throughout the course.
By August, the library will launch the first Gilroy Lego EV3 robotics program with the possibility of expanding the program to other Santa Clara County libraries.
Lego Mindstorms EV3 is the third-generation robotics kit in Lego’s Mindstorms line. The EV designation refers to the evolution of the Mindstorms product line.
“There really is a demand here in the community. Lisa had been doing code classes and noticed the same thing. There’s just a lot of interest, because there’s not a lot offered,” McKean said.
Although nervous at the start of the session, by its conclusion McKean was pleased with how the event had turned out.
“I’m mostly happy with it. We had a full class, which is perfect. Working together and having to share devices can sometimes be a challenge. Most of them didn’t know each other and I was very impressed with that aspect,” McKean said.
Added Duff: “The kids are really smart, and they figured it out, they know technology. Some kids just needed a little more help and that’s fine, then they got it.”
“If they just take one or two things from today, like a couple of things about code, or using a robot, that’s what we want,” McKean said.
Chris Brown, deputy county librarian for Santa Clara County Library District, is happy to be bringing this version of Silicon Valley southward.
“We are extremely excited to present this robotics program to Gilroy residents. It’s something that we wanted to do for some time, but the cost of obtaining the proper equipment and logistics of getting it up and running made it originally too expensive. With this grant we’re able to not only purchase robots and computers for our teen program, but also create and offer an additional program to our younger residents, grades K through 5.”
Beginning this summer, children in grades K through 5 who participate in Gilroy Unified School District’s Power School summer camp will be able to take part in the program.
“It’s difficult for teens to jump in when they haven’t had any exposure, so we want to start young, get them exposed to this, and get them to think about coding and robots and programing as something that they can do,” McKean said.