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I... Robots?

By Mary Biever
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #75, 2007.

The educational benefits of robots

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Mary Biever


One of my best friends programmed her phone so that when I call, it plays the "I Love Lucy" theme song. Could it be because I jump into new things with both feet, like Lucy did? Maybe it's because one day my husband, Richard, will receive the Ricky Ricardo award for keeping my dreams from becoming disasters.

Here's a dream that almost became an I Love Lucy-quality disaster. My children recently developed a passion for robots. I'm a mom who can design a database but who thinks voice mail is too complicated. But like every good homeschool mom, I bravely looked at the educational benefits of robots.

Robot Cartoon The more I read, the more I found to like. So I decided if we did it, we would do it well. A community college with a robotics program offered to lend me robots if I wanted to do a workshop on them. I set it up through the kids' 4-H program and opened it to the county. A young techie kind of guy agreed to help me with them.

Then our robotics wizard techie guy got sick... hospitalized with a stomach bug. And I had $6,000 worth of donated robots plus a workshop to give.

So I called on the help of my ever-trusty husband, my children, and three other homeschooled robotics fans. Richard, playing Sancho to my Don Quixote, methodically and calmly helped with the moving and setup of all those robots.

When the workshop began, we ran into software issues. And I brought the wrong cable for one of the laptops. Things could have gone as badly as Lucy stomping grapes.

However, those five homeschooled robotics students saved the day-and the workshop. My son demonstrated what pre-programmed robots could do. An older boy described what it's like to compete in local robotics competitions. My daughter took a couple of the girls under her wing to show them how to put the wheels together.

The kids started right in. Within 20 minutes, they had built robots and were using their demo programs. They learned how to make them go straight or go in circles. The older kids showed the younger ones not only how to build the robots, but how to make them fun. One robot had multi-colored plastic things sticking out of it, almost like an armadillo with antennae. Kids posed for photos of themselves with their robots. We could have had a robot beauty contest with all the different designs!

As the robots ran, kids chased them and tried new features. Suddenly, on their own, a group of kids decided to run robot races. Other workshop leaders looked up when suddenly my group was full of screaming, cheering kids watching their quickie robot creations race each other. The older boys had shown some of them tricks to make the robots go faster. The kids got more out of playing than they would have from the best, most technically correct workshop in the world.

Take this column as a challenge that every time you hear the theme song to I Love Lucy, you remember to have some goofy, non-educational, and just plain old fun with a child. Maybe it' s a robot. It could be a paper airplane or a kite. Watermelon seeds may be ripe for a spitting contest.

We all need to spend more time enjoying our kids, playing with them, and keeping the fun in all our lives. A little fun goes a long way in smoothing the edges of a family.

Hey, Lucy, is that your phone I hear ringing?

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