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Growing Robofest highlights innovation

Wed, Mar 13th 2019 01:00 pm

By Andrea Dressig / Wellsville Spectator

WELLSVILLE — Robotics education has grown at lightning speed in the last few years, and kids are at the forefront.

School groups from around the area came to Wellsville Secondary School for the second annual Robofest on March 7, a collaboration between FIRST Big Cat Robotics 6892 and Cattaraugus-Allegany BOCES. This weekend the Big Cat team is off to competition at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

The 15th annual Finger Lakes Regional FIRST Robotics Competition takes place March 14-16 at RIT. The Big Cat team came in 35th out of 50 teams at last year’s competition and hopes to beat that this time.

Robofest was a chance to show off their robot and see what other schools are doing in robotics. The event promotes organic learning and robotics education, builds connections between schools, and is a chance to have fun and play too — an important and sometimes forgotten aspect of learning.

“I’m impressed with the amount of interest I saw in other adults, asking other teachers or advisers how they do robotics and learning as much as possible,” said Caitlin Bowen. “Everyone got something out of today.”

Bowen is one of the Big Cat advisers, technology teacher, and STEAM coach at WSS. She helps teachers in all areas integrate STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics) education into their classrooms.

School groups came from Hinsdale, Fillmore, Franklinville, Cuba-Rushford, and the Archbishop Walsh Academy in Olean. Many showed off their VEX tabletop robots or Lego robotics, others brought in homemade kits or played with the kits CA BOCES brought.

There on behalf of CA BOCES was Alexandra Freer and Ryan McGinnis. They came with many of the robotics kits available for teachers to rent or receive training in. These included Bee-Bots, Strawbees, Spheros, Cubelets, and Snap Circuits, all set up on their tables for kids and adults to interact with.

“We might give a kid a subtle hint, but a productive struggle is better,” said Freer. “They’re learning through discovery. Instead of teachers feeding kids information, they’re solving things on their own. We want the kids to be the experts and teach each other.”

The Spheros, ping-pong sized balls controlled by iPads, were a big hit and were zooming around the gym floor all day. Another popular kit was the Snap Circuits, allowing for circuits to be built with batteries, switches, light bulbs, and sound makers without the risk of electrocution.

“If you can get a kid hooked into robotics in preschool or kindergarten, then that interest can go with them through 12th grade,” said McGinnis. “Robotics is the way of the future.”

Rose Scordo compared the Spheros to BB-8 from Star Wars, explaining that they both work in the same way.

Scordo is 11-years-old, attends Walsh Academy, and also runs her own blog, Rosie’s Robots, where she reviews robotics kits for kids. Her interest in robotics began at 6-years-old when she went to the Buffalo Makerfaire, and in 2nd grade, she made her first robot, Artbot. Now she loves setting up her own booths at maker faires around Western New York.

Scordo said last years inaugural Robofest was a big factor in her school applying for a grant to start their own FIRST Lego League. This year they brought their Lego robotics and got inspiration for new things to try. She hopes Robofest continues and that in the future her school will have even more robots to show off.

“You learn skills not only in robotics but in communication, listening, and problem-solving too,” Scordo said.

Bowen plans to keep Robofest going and growing. She is hoping to invite local engineers to the event in the future, and see more school groups each year.

I would love for anyone who’s interested to see what’s happening in schools,” she said. “I would like to have more engineers come and just see what we’re doing. I think they still think that we’re building tinker toys.

“Education has really changed, we need to collaborate more.”

Are you a local engineer that’s interested in seeing what the Big Cat team is up to or coming to next year’s Robofest? Get in touch with Caitlin Bowen at 585-596-2196 or [email protected]



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