Robotics club giving free hands-on experience with technology

After school club runs Monday to Wednesday for kids in Grades 3-6

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Mackenzie Hicks and Sierra Scheiwiller make some tweaks on their robot tower in the lead-up to a race across the Inuvik Youth Centre Jan. 29. A free robotics and programming club is being offered Monday and Tuesday at the Library and Wednesday at the Youth Centre.

A free after school program offering children in Grades 3-6 hands-on experience with robotics and programming is proving to be a big hit, with over 30 students checking out the walk-in workshops in the first week.

An initiative several years in the making, the After School Coding and Robotics club runs Monday to Wednesday each week from Jan. 27 to Feb. 21 and then again March 2 to 6 and with a finale March 23-27. Mondays and Tuesdays are held at the Inuvik Library while Wednesdays are at the Inuvik Youth Centre. All days the program runs from 3:45 to 4:45 p.m.

“Having a coding and robotics club for younger kids is something that Inuvik has been needing for a long time,” said Aurora College outreach coordinator Annika Trimble. “But it’s hard to find the space, or the staff or the funding to make that happen.

“For now we’re just introducing them to the fundamentals of robotics and coding, that robots can sense and react to their environment and process information,” said Trimble. “But we’re also going to get them a lot of different types of robotics and programming to try.

“We’ll always have a couple challenges for the kids each day, and some extra hard ones for the kids when they’re really ready.”

Students will partake in a different coding or robotics-related activity each night and learn at their own pace. Programing uses more simplified concepts to help kids construct computer software instead of forcing them into the constant trial-and-error that is associated with standard programming languages.

“There will be that trouble-shooting, but we wanted to use coding platforms and robotics systems that are really accessible and easy to use,” said Trimble. “And are fun to work with.”

Kids also work with basic toy robots, such as cubelets, which can be connected together or with each other or even LEGOs.

“It helps the kids explore how sensors work and how there is cause and effect, or input and output, for a robot,” said Trimble. “They also had to think about design elements like stability. But we will also get in ones that are much more coding oriented, maybe a conditional thing like if I get so close to an edge of a table I need to stop. So we’ll get there.”

Funding for the program was facilitated by Actua, which secured the funds through the CanCode program, a federal digital literacy fund. Students will work with Kathryn Barr, who is teaching the program.

“We’re just initially introducing what each block does,” she said. “There’s programs that go along with the laptops and there’s bluetooth that communicates with them, and you can also learn how to code the robots. You can create, build and make it personalized.

“I’m hoping by the time we’re done kids won’t think of coding and robotics as something foreign or hard to understand. Then they’ll be more comfortable with it and be more likely to pursue it.”

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