"Robot revolution" teaches, enriches children
The latest program at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland pairs a popular children's toy with modern science. Executive Director Charles Sutton and his staff have been using Lego Mindstorm Robots to teach kids about technology and give them a leg up on the future.
"We know that technology was a huge piece in doing so. To prepare them for the workplace," explains Sutton. "We know with the influx of Wacker and Volkswagen, huge technical needs and opportunities for them to get a job."
The idea came about a couple years ago after Sutton noticed a nationwide movement of kids using the robots in competitions. After securing thousands of dollars in grants, the program started locally.
Dozens of youngsters put their skills to the test at a recent contest at Cleveland State Community College. After months of practice, they had to assemble the robots, hundreds of pieces each, as fast as possible according to a manual. Then, using a few buttons, they program the robots to perform simple tasks.
"Responding to sounds, responding to light, to following lines on this map that's behind me," says Sutton.
Besides learning the science behind it all, the kids also learn teamwork while improving their math and reading skills. But according to Emily Mabry who runs the club's tech lab, they also have fun.
"No kid comes to an after school program expecting to play with a robot. So they've been really excited," says Mabry. She's been impressed with the kids' progress socially and intellectually.
Sutton emphasizes it's not just about education, however. That's why he reached out to the community at a Kiwanis Club meeting Thursday in order to help disadvantaged kids emotionally as well, especially the boys who are growing up in what he calls a "fatherless generation".
"I know those boys light up when there's another male in the room. Especially a man that can speak to the future," says Sutton.
A feeling shared by Boys and Girls Clubs volunteer and retired engineer Charles Bagley.
"I'm dedicated to children. To me it's a very important thing. Children are our future and robotics is part of that future," says Bagley.
Sutton says the next step is for the kids to program the robots remotely using software on an iPad. This will allow the robots to perform higher level tasks and hopefully catapult the kids to regional and national competitions.
Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland has six sites in the city and one in Polk County. They serve an average of 400 kids daily.