Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Building robots with children

Last week I did a bit of robot-making with a group of 7-11 year olds at the BOM Summer Camp.

BOM (Birmingham Open Media) if you're unaware is Birmingham's best new art-science-technology hub with welcoming open doors, a DIY ethic, a group of resident artists, an adjoining cafe, regular events and exhibitions, and a definite buzz (despite the stripped back concrete floors and ramshackle wooden mezzanine).

Run by the very lovely Karen Newman, BOM has all the promise of a Midlands revolution, and it's close proximity to the new station offers easy access for everyone. The team included myself (as tech expert), members of the 8 Bit Pirates (game designers), Amy from Famalam (an innovator in children's workshops) and other staff and volunteers from BOM.

It was intense and a great success, with bright youngsters going through five days of character design, cardboard model-making, basic electronics and programming, animation, music and even a bit of robot dancing - not to mention a fair amount of games and videos to keep them entertained and energised.

By friday I was exhausted, but we had 15 well designed and constructed robots with flashing lights, sensors and moving parts which the kids had built from scratch. A good amount of preparation paid off well, and the intricacies of electrical circuit building and programming micro-controllers were boiled down to a painting-by-numbers simplicity, which the children blasted through at lightning speed. For the robot building we used the Crumble - a fairly new and kid-friendly electrical kits from 4tronix.

I think my personal highlight had to be the robot disco in which staff members were dressed by the kids as robots before the room exploded with grooving bodies (young, old and robot).

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