Expanding Your Horizons 2008

Posted by Debby on 17th March and posted in Robotics, Teaching and Learning

Saturday (March 15th) I had an opportunity to lead a workshop for the local Expanding Your Horizons conference sponsored by the Ridgecrest Women of Math and Science. This amazing conference is open to middle school girls and is designed to encourage girls to pursue non-traditional careers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) areas. It is held at Michelson Lab on base, which is a very interesting location in itself. This year they had 158 kids from schools all over our local service area. I even saw a school bus from Lone Pine in the parking lot!

Our workshop was titled “Mission to Mars” and was a collaborative effort of several people. Cerro Coso students Rachel Schlick and Michelle Montemayor helped brainstorm the scenario. Astronauts were landing on Mars and had to race the Aliens to the home base. Rachel led the way with robot design and programming while Michelle took the lead in the artistic arena to transform a plain white box into the red planet, steaming volcano and all. We worked into the wee hours of the night on Friday to get everything ready and loaded into my Suburban, and met up at 7:45am Saturday to go to the conference.

We ran three sessions, each only one hour, which is quite a challenge, given the hands-on nature of robotics. After talking to the kids about what a robot was all about (a machine the interacts with its environment) and how that worked (they have senses just like we do!), we showed a short video that a former student of mine had created to show them what we do at the college. We then broke them into teams of 2 or 3, set up the scene, and let them get to work. They had about 40 minutes to create a robot that would use a light sensor to follow the path to the home base. We pre-programmed the bricks because there wasn’t time for the kids to do that part. Rachel, Michelle, and myself encouraged and facilitated the process. Even our escorts couldn’t resist the fun and positive energy… soon they were helping out also. The coolest thing was that most of groups actually did get something running in that short period of time, although we did have a few spectacular crashes! The only problem we really had was getting the kids to leave the room and move on to their next activity 🙂

As part of the introduction I asked how many of the kids had been to Cerro Coso before. It was awesome to see that most of them had, as part of our 5th grader day at the college. We get them in 5th grade… hit them up again in middle school… bring them to campus for Preview Day in high school… engage them in the Virtual High School program… and shazaam! I can’t help but believe that we will be seeing many of these students on our campus when they are ready for college.

Of course, we weren’t allowed to take pictures in the lab, but the official photographer came back many, many times and was able to get a group shot at the end of each session. She will be sending me a CD with all of the pictures soon and I will share some of those with you when she does. I am attaching some of the pictures we took on Friday as we were preparing for the conference.

01_building – a random student became so interested in what we were doing that he stayed for several hours and helped build a demo bot.

02_rachelProgramming – Rachel worked hard at coming up with the programming… lots of troubleshooting involved here!

03_testing – Rachel tests the robot while Michelle begins building a volcano on Mars

04_spaceStation – my daughter Emilee helped Rachel create the Martian home base

05_mars – Welcome to the Red Planet

06_volcano – the demo bots explore the smoking volcano (the EYH kids though that was VERY cool!)

07_adam – ok, so you can never start TOO young… this is our 2 year old, Adam. He doesn’t say much, but he can say “ROBOT” loud and clear!


You can view the video we showed the kids on my website at http://www.collegeteacher.org/robotics. It is on the bottom half of the page in a couple of formats. For more information about the EYH organization, you can go to http://www.expandingyourhorizons.org/ and for details about our local conference, please visit http://www1.iwvisp.com/EYH/.

This was a great experience and we are already looking forward to next year!







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