July 2016
Youth Matters

4-H Extension Corner: Want to Build a Robot? These 4-H’ers are learning how!

Lauderdale County 4-H Robotics Club is engaging with technology and fun.

For nearly 10 years, youth in Lauderdale County have enjoyed the challenge of building and programming Lego robots. The fun started with the Lego RCX units, and has evolved to include the Lego Mindstorm robots and the newest Lego EV3 robots.

The Robotics Club members proudly present the robots they will take to the NW Alabama STEM Challenge.  

Hattin Berryman, a sixth-grader at Waterloo School, has been in the club for three years.

"4-H came to my school and I learned about the robotics club," Berryman recalled. "Since I had gotten a Lego Mindstorm set for Christmas, I knew I wanted to join to learn more."

In the club, which meets once a month, youth work in groups of four to six building a robot to meet a certain task or challenge. Examples include a parallel-parking course, an obstacle course, a rattlesnake robot and a drag race car. Once the robot is complete, the team begins to program the robot’s brain to do what they want it to do. While the Lego Mindstorm robots can be programmed directly on the robot brain, the Lauderdale 4-H Club members use a laptop and the Mindstorm software to program the functions. This process takes a lot of patience, and a lot of trial and error!

"In robotics club, I have learned more about the Mindstorm sets and about working with robotic teams," Berryman said.

Each year, as the club’s community service project, the members volunteer at the Northwest Alabama Boosting Engineering, Science &Technology Robotics Competition. They serve in hospitality, providing judges and help with snacks and drinks throughout the day. This event also gives the 4-H youth an opportunity to see different student-built robots in action. Many of the 4-H members go on to join their school’s robotics team when they reach the seventh grade.

"Our Robotics Club is a training ground for our schools’ BEST Robotics teams," jokingly said Janet Lovelady, 4-H Foundation regional Extension agent. "But I don’t mind at all. I’m proud to see Lauderdale 4-H’ers competing in BEST."

Lovelady tries to provide a competition for the 4-H’ers as well. Whether it’s at county roundup or at a regional event in northwest Alabama, the youth have the opportunity to show what they’ve learned with their robots.

This year, a regional event was sponsored by Lockheed Martin Corp. and held in Limestone County. Six counties participated in the STEM event that included a robotics competition, a Junk Drawer Robotics activity, a rocketry learning station and a GIS adventure.

Many of the Robotics Club members are very well-rounded 4-Hers! Berryman also participates in Chick Chain and Shooting Sports.

When asked if he would recommend 4-H to others, he replied, "Yes, you will learn a lot about yourself, meet new friends and have a lot of fun doing it!"

 

Janet Lovelady is a 4-H Foundation Regional Extension Agent in Lauderdale County.