March of the robots begins
- Written by Kathy Parks
EcoBot Challenge inspires fifth- to eighth-grade students in 13 Houston/Galveston counties to solve real-world environmental problems, as preparation for the April 17 competition. “Students use math and science skills learned in the classroom to create and execute their entries,” said Doug Kleiner, president and CEO of Education Foundation of Harris County, one of the sponsors. “Our challenge fits beautifully with any school program, but any group can put together a team. Students can represent a school, a church youth group, a Scout troop, members of a YMCA or other community organizations,” he said. Kleiner said even a group of kids in a neighborhood can enter with a parent serving as their coach. Each team must have four members. He said challenge participants can build physical robots that perform specific environmental tasks or do their work on paper and PowerPoint. They may compete by developing ideas for robots and create a PowerPoint presentation that describes how they would market their invention, which is suited to performing tasks with an environmental focus. “Some of the important things a students learn include teamwork and problem solving,” said Kleiner. “If a wheel falls off, one student may be the team’s choice to make the repair, but if completing the task involves reconfiguring the software, another team member may take the lead.” Kleiner said the educational value of the program includes strengthening science, math, physics, computer and language skills. It teaches creativity and experimental and scientific methods. While opening windows on a wider world by introducing students to business sponsors with an environmental component, the contest also enhances a student’s presentation skills and resilience. “We are big fans of the educational work that the foundation is doing,” said Dr. Douglas Killian, Huffman ISD superintendent. “We initially got involved with their work two years ago, when they offered some incredible training for our teachers who were teaching science through an integrated literature project. Our pre-kindergarten teachers really jumped into this partnership and we had pre-k students acting like scientist and participating experiments.” Robot tasks already defined for the 2010 competition include the following: decommission a coal-fired power plant and commission a nuclear plant; reduce carbon footprint by replacing non-renewable resources with green energy; make and deliver bio fuel; or orient a solar panel towards the sun. Registration has already tripled since last year, with the greatest number of teams coming from Humble ISD. The 2010 Ecobot competition is scheduled for Saturday, April 17 at the Reliant Center. For more information, visit www.ecobotchallenge.com. Photos: (Top) Students participating in the EcoBot Challenge learn the value of teamwork and resilience, as they strengthen their math, science and physics skills. The deadline to register a four-man team for this year’s competition is Jan. 20. (Bottom) This collection of student-made robots competed in last year’s Ecobot Challenge. Robots are created to complete earth-friendly tasks such as orienting solar panels or delivering bio fuel.