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December 12, 2012

New Albany students learn teamwork, programming by building robots

NEW ALBANY — Judging by the pleasure clearly shown by the children as they wheeled their robots around the Ed Endres Boys & Girls Club, it would be easy to assume the kids were only having fun Wednesday afternoon.

But the hours they spent turning Lego kits into functional robots that can play music, light up on command and spin around on four wheels introduced the kids to computer programming and basic engineering.

Instruction is part of the reason behind the RoboTech program, officials and organizers behind the project said. In September, students at the New Albany club were selected to pilot the program locally.

Time Warner Cable — parent company of Insight Communications — partnered with Boys & Girls Club of America and FIRST Robotics to bring the program to 20 chapters across the country.

In September, New Albany students at Ed Endres Boys & Girls Club were introduced to robotics for the first time. When they saw the Lego Mindstorms boxes waiting to be opened, many had no idea the toy parts could be transformed into a robot.

“They didn’t actually know they could build it themselves,” said Santanna Lea, program director at the Ed Endres Boys & Girls Club.

She conceded she didn’t know much about robotics at the time either, or how drawn to the program the kids would be. They almost immediately were enticed with the idea of building their own robots, and their interest only grew with the more functions they learned how to program, she continued.

“They actually taught me a lot,” Lea said. “It was a learning process for all of us.”

Science-Technology-Engineering-Math — or STEM — youth activities and programs are vital because they help train kids for a new frontier of jobs, Insight Communications Director of Communications Dan Ballister said.

“Time Warner and Insight are very excited about partnerships like these,” he said.

The program is geared toward middle school students, though some younger kids also participated in the project at Ed Endres. The children formed groups to work on the robots and demonstrated their work Wednesday at the club.

To congratulate them for their progress, Ballister and Insight donated several gifts to the clubs including games and gadgets that emphasize science and technology.

Ballister said robotics are quite popular across the country, and there are tournaments regularly where kids can enter their robots in competitions based on functionality.

Hopefully the students at the Ed Endres Boys & Girls Club will continue their interest in robotics and enter some tournaments, he continued.

“The kids have to practice and practice and work as a team to make sure their robot can compete,” Ballister said.

Jennifer Helgeson, president and CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of Kentuckiana, was on hand to see the kids display their robots. Seeing the pride the kids had for their work proved how valuable the project was, she said.

“I think the program is incredible,” Helgeson said. “It encourages them and gets the kids excited about science and technology.”

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The Rev. Eric Johnson, New Albany, is accompanied by Shea, right, and Sammy Taylor, both of Memphis, during the cross procession at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church's Good Friday service in New Albany on Friday afternoon.

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