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Youth get robots rockin’ in Seattle’s 98118

Posted: July 1, 2014 2:50 am
By: - Brainstorm  
NewHolly youth with their robotics creations

NewHolly youth with their robotics creations

Written by Beryl Fernandes, Ph.D., a member of CTTAB, and an urban planning/management consultant.

Contagious! That’s the children’s enthusiasm and excitement at programming and watching their robots follow intended or unintended pre-programmed directions. Claps and screams of delight get everyone’s attention when a team’s robot makes the circuit flawlessly. Uncontainable!

One of the most diverse zip codes in the country according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the youth of this robotics program defy often-held myths about them. Enrolled in a 10-week STEAM Lab (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) program at the Filipino Community of Seattle, young women and men, ages 6-16, from more than a dozen ethnic backgrounds, learn math, take apart computers, re-build them, build robots, and program the “bots” to follow directions.

Funded by City of Seattle’s Technology Matching Fund, the program requires repeated testing, trial and error. Students learn to “fail fast and fail often” – one of life’s many lessons imparted by their esteemed volunteer STEAM Lab Program Director, Jon Madamba. An electrical engineer and computer consultant, Jon asserts with exuberance, that each youth has everything it takes “to become our next generation of leaders.”  He wants them, “empowered to positively impact their families’ trajectory no matter what obstacles they face in life.  The STEAM Labs provide access and equality to build confidence as future innovators.”

Supported by other volunteer instructors and mentors, these youth prove they thrive in this challenging, nurturing environment. East African Community Services (a STEAM Lab partner), Executive Director Faisal Jama wants to provide exposure for all youth, but girls in particular, demystify it, and make it a career option. Students use a drag ‘n drop program and casually refer to robot components – the brick, brain, motors, legs, ultra sonic sensors, and color sensors.

Tim Leavitt, a volunteer instructor, says the labs provide real-world use of math, science and technology learned in school, by applying them to practical problem-solving. A 6-year old girl said she had the most fun building and testing the robot. A 7-year old boy was confident he could re-program a robot to do anything. A parent commented on teamwork in this program, where every child chooses a role such as programmer, project manager, builder, inventory, etc. Another parent liked the confidence gained from the kid-teaching-kid component. One parent asked her 10-year old daughter if she could clean up her room that fast, and the girl replied, “No, but I can program a robot to do it!” A mentor beamed, saying he loved seeing kids’ faces light up. “They are inventors!” he exclaimed.