Longtime friends Tara Hollins, a sixth-grade teacher at Southern University Lab School, and Tiffany Franklin, program coordinator with Southern’s AgCenter, teamed with Hollins’ students to take the 4-H Eco-Bot Challenge.
This time, the toxic spill wasn’t on an interstate but on fictitious Bailey Beach, as outlined in the 4-H National Youth Science Day guide.
The students learned what constitutes a hazardous spill, why it’s harmful and how robots are used to go where humans cannot go safely.
Instead of toxic waste or dangerous chemicals, the sixth-graders’ robots were assigned to sweep birdseed from a grid.
Team scores were determined by the number of squares cleared on the grid with a minimum number of human touches.
The rules limited the number of times students could touch their robots. They were allowed to guide the robots using drinking straws and small plastic cups as bumpers.
The robots are the size of a toothbrush head with tiny motor and watch battery attached. The motor makes the bristles of the toothbrush vibrate, providing the robots’ locomotion.
“These are small robots,” said Yellow Team Leader Destinie Taylor, 11. “When I get older, I’d like to build a big one.”
Like the football players in the classic electric board game, the toothbrush head robots scoot in no predictable direction. That’s where the drinking straws and plastic cup bumpers come in.
The children realized quickly that their toothbrush robots had design flaws but got the idea of how real robots work.
“I made sure each group (of students) got their Eco Bots and had fun,” said Pink Team leader Kennedy Williams, 11.
“We built the robots in one class period,” said Pink Team’s Braxton Webb, 11. “Everyone did at least one part.”
Kaderic Ricard, 12, of the Green Team, thought robots could do anything before attempting to control one. “It’s how you program it,” he said.
As Hollins prepared to start the two-minute clock, students hovered over their grids and robots like players in a Foosball tournament.
Even with the limitations of the unprogrammable robots, Hollins’ students learned team work, the teacher said.
“Working with the (4-H) National Science Experiment, the kids used scientific inquiry to figure out how to clean up a simulated toxic spill,” said Hollins.
“Ms. Hollins and I have known each other since we were this high,” said the AgCenter’s Franklin. “We collaborated on a vegetable garden last January.”
As part of 4-H National Youth Science Day, Hollins’ students will give a demonstration to which the public is invited from 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 10 in the Southern University AgCenter, Room 191, off Mills Avenue.
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