American Robotics Academy-Austin Helps Kids Create Technology

Friday, April 1, 2016

Can your child write a program that makes a robot travel across the solar system? Has he ever navigated the human circulatory system? Has she used a robot to perform a search-and-rescue mission? At American Robotics Academy-Austin, they'll learn how to do just that! 

Narno Dorbecker brought the American Robotics concept to the Austin area two years ago and began offering its after-school program at one Austin ISD campus. The program has since grown to include additional campuses in Austin ISD, Leander ISD, Round Rock ISD, and Eanes ISD, as well as programs at many Austin-area private schools. 

Building upon its success, American Robotics Academy-Austin has developed 16 different programs, which are offered throughout the summer. Each class is built around "missions" where students build a robot and then complete a mission using their creation. 

"We use Lego-Technic pieces, which are offered through Lego's Education Division. That means the robots have high-tech add-ons like motors, remote controls, gears, pulleys, and IR receivers. We also offer coding and programming classes for EV3 Mindstorm using RobotC, a computer language developed by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania," says Narno. 

"As a software engineer, I enjoy teaching middle school and high school students to program the Lego EV3. The challenges they have to solve using the EV3 Robots are usually associated with science." he adds. 

The missions encourage both higher-order thinking and building social skills. Students work together as a team to accomplish a task and achieve goals for their robots, which requires that campers collaborate to make decisions to best solve problems. They also learn concepts including gear ratios, friction, acceleration, RPMs, and Infrared signals while following specific instructions to achieve the desired results. Any variation could result in a non-optimal functioning robot. Narno notes that kids tend to learn this lesson quickly, and these small failures encourage them to actively participate in building their robot. 

One of Narno's favorite activities involves a robot he programmed to play tic-tac-toe against the campers. "They are fascinated to see how it blocks their attempts to win. When the robot wins, it plays the Star Wars theme song, and the kids love that!" he says. 

"At American Robotics Academy-Austin, we inspire our students. From the first grader who learns how the position of a gear affects the speed and power of a robot, to the high school student who creates a program to control a robot, the campers learn to embrace technology. Our goal is that through participation in our camps, the children become not just users of technology, but creators of technology. We hope that our campers gain an understanding of the multitude of potential applications in the real world."

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