Northern Nevada families come Out for Robots Rock! Event at the Discovery Museum

A kid learns programming by reading instructions to "Robot Grace" for how to make a PB&J sandwich

A kid learns programming by reading instructions to "Robot Grace" for how to make a PB&J sandwich

On April 27, the Discovery Museum is teeming with kids of all sizes, barely able to control their excitement as they get the opportunity to play with robots and an abundance of interactive, educational toys.

As part of the Northern Nevada Science & Technology Festival, the Discovery Museum hosted the “Robots Rock!” giving families free access to a variety of activities and hands-on exhibits to everything Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) related.

In the atrium on the main level, a teenager with a remote control launches a basketball from a medium-sized robot with a metal arm into the arms of a young girl, while another kid furiously pedals an “energy bike” in the corner to light up an LED bulb board. In the opposite corner, the Washoe County Library System is teaching kids the basics of coding by allowing them to make “binary bracelets.”

A young kid playing with cubelets in the Robotic Sampler room


There is so much to see and do during the “Robots Rock!” event that you need a map to get around. In the Exhibitions room, a Battle Bot-looking thing named Tommy extends an arm made of a measuring tape with a red solo cup on the end and places it on a hook. This robot took 20 days to build, VC Silver Circuits team member Anika Iris tells me, and then she points out “Bob”, a similar looking robot that won the state championship of the most recent FIRST Nevada Tech Challenge event through the FTC Robotics team #16158. The VC Silver Circuits has 11 members who work as programmers, builders, and on the business team, spending the school year building the robot and documenting it.

“They have to do a presentation for judges,” says Coach Michelle Adkins, who points to the large binder full of pages and tabs highlighting the building, programming, and functionalities of their robot, a report that could rival any top business plan. The creation of Bob and the documentation around it allowed them to receive the Inspire Award, a noteworthy recognition in Nevada’s robotics world.

“It’s fun to see them interacting and our team is learning how to engage with the younger ones as well,” Adkins says, as a few of VC Silver Circuits members mingle around the room, allowing toddlers to steer and play with the robots. Adkins has been involved with FIRST Nevada for four years and has two kids in the program (another to join soon).

Kids go on to become mechanical or electrical engineers, learning the basics to then go out and do “whatever they want” with their lives, as Adkins says. According to its website, FIRST Nevada’s mission is to inspire Nevada’s youth to become technology and science leaders via engaging them in exciting STEM programs that inspire innovation, self-confidence, and leadership. Its data shows that 98 percent of its members improved their problem-solving skills and 87 percent were likely to major in engineering or science.

When asked what her favorite part of being involved with this state award-winning team is, Adkins replies, “Seeing their creative minds working and what they come up with, and the excitement. They’re learning and it’s something they can use for their future while having fun.” Adkins adds that the team was gifted a 3D printer which allowed them to learn drafting skills. “They took that and ran with it this year.” Since Adkins also homeschools her kids, she believes attending events like robotics competitions and community outreach helps give them a social outlet, too.

"Tommy", the robot that they took to the worlds event.

At another station in the same room, a woman is showing two first graders how she directs a Lego vehicle on a track using a computer as two other little boys play with KEVA planks. In the next room over, DRI Nevada Robotics has an interactive game involving sensory cubelets designed to help people Think, Act, and Sense.
“You guys can go to another station,” the attendant jokes to two elementary school-age boys who have been playing with the cubelets for quite a while. She adds, “I always tell parents, you have a Christmas list going.” 

This activity appeals mostly to elementary school kids, but the volunteer says that some middle schoolers and “the occasional parent who wants to practice some engineering comes over here as well,” she smiles. Across the cubelet station, 6–10-year-olds are playing with remote control cars, zipping them around on a track.
Wandering into the next room, a couple of kids are coloring at the Robot Art station and others are playing with oversized magnets, launching wooden balls down a rollercoaster line, and placing little plastic parachuter people into a vertical flute and watching them shoot up. The Shop next to DaVinci’s Corner is full of people, kids and parents using reflective sticker tape, cardboard rolls, and other materials to build robots and rockets.

And on the lower level, a volunteer named Grace is in the Blue Party Room at the “Program A Human ‘Robot’ to Make a PBJ Sandwich” activity. This human robot relies on detailed written instructions to successfully make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, allowing kids (and their parents) to physically see where they went wrong in their coding when Grace does exactly what they tell her to do.

Local kids and families had a field day playing with robots, with all activities carrying an educational undertone. It’ll be interesting to see what this generation of Northern Nevadans does twenty years from now.

"Bob", the robot that won the state championship for the VC Silver Circuits




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