PAMELA COTANT For the State Journal
Second- through fifth-graders gathered around their robotic vehicles in a tug-of-war contest on a recent afternoon.
It was the moment of truth at the end of an afternoon of designing the robots in an after-school activity at Shorewood Hills Elementary School called Robotics: Lego Mindstorms 101. Students are learning the basics of designing, programming and controlling a fully functional robot using Lego Mindstorms, a version of the building blocks that incorporates programmable robotics, as well as mathematical concepts and engineering principles.
As the students will tell you, sometimes it doesn’t go as planned.
When approached to talk about the class, third-grader Evangeline Neville-Rhody, 8, said she had to get back to her group, which was experiencing trouble building its robot. She later said that getting everything to work is the toughest part.
“You might be spending a very long time working on one thing and then when you test it, it might not work,” she said. “It happens a lot.”
The students are participating in the Engineering for Kids program run by a foundation of the same name based in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The six-week after-school program through March 18 costs $125. Another junior program for kindergarten and first-graders costs $95.
Second-grader Ava Butsic was thrilled when her parents enrolled her in the program as a Christmas present.
“I was thinking ‘Wow,’” she said. “It’s fun doing it, programming it (a robot).”
One of the instructors, Jeannette Figiel, who is a sophomore in industrial engineering at Madison Area Technical College, said Engineering for Kids introduces the students to the concept.
The other instructor, Juan Pintor Cuellar, who is studying material science at MATC, said he enjoys seeing the look in students’ eyes when they understand a concept, and he hopes he is teaching students how to solve problems.
“If you can look at a situation, analyze and work at it, I think that is the best skill I can teach them,” he said.
Rutu Bole, director of Engineering for Kids of Dane County, said she hopes the program ignites and develops interest in science, technology, engineering and math.
“Children are natural engineers who have unlimited imagination,” she said.
Fourth-grader Ian Soderberg said the toughest parts of the program are the building and learning to work with others.
“We all have different ideas and we try to express that,” he said.