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July 26, 2013

Robots take over base library

Mickey Bowen, the 412th Test Wing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics outreach director, uses VEX Claw bots to teach children about motors during the base library’s summer reading program.

 
School’s out for the summer but the learning hasn’t stopped.

The Edwards AFB Library is keeping kids busy with its fourth annual Department of Defense sponsored summer reading program. The program includes a special one-hour presentation on Friday mornings that is open to all ages. The July 19 event was a robotics demonstration presented by the 412th Test Wing, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics outreach director, Mickey Bowen.

Bowen brought several robots including VEX, NXT and calculator robots. The majority of his demonstration was done with VEX Claw bots that have a moving claw that opens and closes. The robots are operated using a control system similar to an Xbox controller with a range of up to 300 feet.

Each controller was color coded to match its individual robot. The students were taught how each controller sent messages to an individual motor just like the human brain can control the body. By the end of the hour, students were able to observe that it takes the whole system of the motor and controller to create a robot.

“My job is to try to inspire students to become interested in a future career path into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics or STEM,” said Bowen, “I am a STEM specialist bringing this advanced equipment to students and letting them become inquisitive.”

Mickey Bowen, 412th Test Wing STEM outreach director, uses a paper boat powered by a fan to demonstrate the concepts of force and weight.

Following his demonstration, Bowen invited the children and their parents to try the robots themselves. They also worked on a project that required students to discover how to make a paper boat, made from a skimmer with a cell on it, move across a table top. The goal was for them to find ways to improve the boats distance and ability to stay on course by changing factors like force and weight.

The project is designed to help children “start learning physics at a young age.”

“They don’t realize they’re doing the math or the critical thinking,” said Bowen, “but that’s what it’s all about.” He added, “After this workshop, how many kids are going home right now, how many parents are walking away having discoveries about themselves?”

According to Alison Vasquez, the library director, the presenters for the summer reading program are usually volunteers from base. So far this summer, they have had a LEGO demonstration, a security forces K-9 Unit demonstration and various crafts. The library will have visits from the Health and Wellness center and a Zumba instructor before the summer ends.

Each year, the reading program offers incentives, which correspond with the theme, to children that read a set number of books. This year, the theme is “Have Book, Will Travel” so the prizes include items like a sling pack or a travel journal.

A young volunteer attempts to use the VEX Claw bot to lift a rubber ball. The base library’s summer reading program invites speakers each Friday to give presentations to young children to get them interested in learning.

“[The program is] to keep the children interested in reading while they are on vacation and to help the parents keep them interested and busy with things that are related to school,” said Vasquez. “They don’t forget what it is to read and follow a schedule. We offer them incentives for each reading level they achieve.”

Vasquez said the program has grown significantly since last year. The previous summer, the library reported around 9,100 books completed cumulatively in the 10-week period. This year, after only seven weeks, the total has surpassed 7,000 books. “We hope to get to the 10,000 mark this year,” she said.

“Having a reading program while the children are off school helps keep them interested in reading. We also have the chance to promote the library more and help the parents find out about our services. They can get not only books to read but other materials that they can use with their kids at home.”

 




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