Eye on Extension: Robotics provides competition and skill-building

VALLEY — Five years ago I started the San Luis Valley 4-H Robotics program with a handful of kids and some grant funding. Since that small beginning, the program has grown to include teams and members from all over the Valley.

Over the years, participants in the program have had great success in regional, national and international competitions. More importantly however, they’ve gained valuable skills that they’ll be able to leverage in school and the workplace.

SLV 4-H Robotics is structured as a team and challenged-based program. Youth work in teams of 2 to 4 members to build and program robots to complete various monthly challenges like navigating a maze, following a line, or delivering an object. By working with others on difficult problems, participants improve their teamwork and communication skills. They also increase their patience and perseverance as they work through challenges together.

Besides gaining experience in engineering, construction and programming, youth practice general problem solving at each meeting and competition. They identify a problem (the challenge that month) and then develop a robot and program to solve that problem. To do this they employ creativity, critical thinking, and decision-making. All of these skills are valued by employers and institutions of higher education.

Another important skill that participants gain is the ability to troubleshoot. Frequently, the robot or program will not work as expected, and youth will need to work together to determine what the problem is. Then they’ll find and test possible solutions to that problem. Troubleshooting builds grit, which is a skill that helps people deal with challenging situations.

One last skill that youth participants exhibit is commitment. Teams compete monthly from December to March, and also enter a regional competition in April and a fair challenge in August. In addition to these challenges, they meet at least once a month with their individual team to work and grow. This requires a commitment on the part of both the youth and their parents.

All of these skills help youth participants prepare to be successful students, appealing job applicants, and productive citizens. Besides gaining all of these skills, members get to have a whole lot of fun: meeting and working with other kids, working with LEGO robots, and competing for fun, prizes and glory.

The SLV 4-H Robotics program will be hosting our regional robotics competition, Colorado RoboRally on Saturday, April 6 at the Monte Vista High School. This event allows our teams, along with others from around the state, to compete in a variety of challenges. Read more about the event on our website at http://tinyurl.com/RoboRaveColorado. The general public is welcome to drop in to the event, which runs from 9 am to 4 pm, to observe and see what our program is all about. We’d love to see you there.

Amy Henschen is the 4-H Youth Development Agent for Colorado State University Extension. To find out more about Extension and the 4-H program visit http://sanluisvalley.colostate.edu. Extension programs are available to all without discrimination.


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