Press-Republican

July 13, 2013

Local robotics club expanding age groups

By JEFF MEYERS Press-Republican
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Robots will continue to strengthen their presence at the Champlain Valley Transportation Museum this summer.

The Plattsburgh-based museum is hosting its second year of robotics programs as organizers expand their offerings to more age groups.

“We’re trying to provide a program for those kids who want to continue through the different levels,” said David Collins, who helps run the Transportation Museum’s robotics program with his son and head coach, Justin Collins.

Justin is a sophomore at SUNY Plattsburgh, majoring in physics and engineering. David is a special-education teacher at Northeastern Clinton Central School.

LEGO COMPETITIONS

Last year, the museum hosted a FIRST Lego League competitive team with kids ranging from ages 4 to 14.

This year’s program will also include Junior FIRST Lego League for kids from 6 to 8 and a FIRST Tech Challenge for kids 14 to 18.

The junior squad features a maximum of six participants who will use Lego products to complete a task and create a poster board and final project.

The 9-to-14 bracket, with a maximum of 10 members for each team, will again build and program a robot using Lego robotics materials and will attend regional competition at Clarkson University in December.

The older group will build and program a more complex robotic system and will also complete in December.

FIRST is the name of the company that co-sponsors the competition with Lego Corp.

GROWING INTENSITY

The Transportation Museum currently sponsors one team for the youngest and oldest groups and two teams for the 9-to-14 group.

“We’re hoping that as kids age out of one group, they will want to compete with the next,” David said. “As they advance, the challenges become much more intense.”

The competition always features topics relevant to current trends in society. In 2012, participants had to program their robots to carry out tasks that were representative of activities senior citizens can do to promote independent living.

This year, the kids will program tasks related to “nature’s fury,” a concept that seems especially timely with current weather trends.

“We were happy with last year’s results,” David said. “The kids worked as a team and were able to compete in regional competition.”

NEW SKILLS

Teamwork is one of several skills the competitors practice as they learn about robotics.

“With 10 kids and one robot, you’ve got to balance everyone’s ideas to create a working robot,” Justin said. “With 10 minds working on one goal, it can be a bit of a challenge.

“They also end up with competitive skills, and they end up with problem-solving skills,” he added.

The programs are especially suited for kids who are interested in science, math and robotics, both David and Justin agreed.

Participants offer an excellent opportunity for experience when applying for scholarships, Justin added.

FIRST has made available $11 million in scholarship funds.

SUMMER PROGRAMS

The Champlain Valley Transportation Museum is offering a series of summer programs involving all three age levels.

The museum is also hosting a summer Science Week where kids age 9 to 14 will learn to build rockets, pasta bridges and other scientific programs. That runs from July 29 to Aug. 2 and costs $50 per participant.

The museum is also hosting the Clarkson University Robotics Team from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 27 with live robotic demonstrations and hands-on activities for children. The museum and Kids’ Station will be open as well. Special admission price for the day is $4 for adults and free for children under 12.

Email Jeff Meyers:jmeyers@pressrepublican.com

TO LEARN MORE

For information on the Champlain Valley Transportation Museum Robotics Program, contact team coach Justin Collins at coachjustinFLL@gmail.com or call the museum at 566-7575. For information on the week-long science workshop, call the museum.