Robotic

Zak Child of New Smyrna Beach, from left, Sterling Pritchard of Edgewater and Gavin Balboa of New Smyrna Beach work on their robots while sports/wellness program director Russell Miller looks on during the Legos Robotics Camp at the Southeast Volusia Family YMCA on Thursday, July 23.

The Southeast Volusia Family YMCA at 148 W Turgot Ave. in Edgewater has found a way to make after school programs more exciting through the use of robotics.

The brainchild of volunteer Ed Koplin (who is assisted by wife Mary Ann and Daytona State College senior Jacob Hiatt), the program is geared for elementary school students.

The robotics program uses computer chips and sensors developed by Texas Instruments “intelligence bricks” for LEGO and the children are mastering building LEGO robots. The children apply ultrasonic sensors, gyroscopic accelerometers, infrared sensors and motor rotation sensors.

Some of the children are developing programs at the middle school level. In one program, an ultrasonic distance sensor sought out an object, captured it and returned it to base, “just like a Martian Rover.”

Children ages 7-9 use the WeDo 2.0 program and those 9-11 use EV3. There are international competitions for EV3 in more than 100 countries with 400,000 participants. Understanding the LEGO/Texas Instruments system is recognized throughout many different industries all over the world.

Mr. Koplin, who lives in Edgewater, is a retired engineer who loves children and has worked with them for 50 years.

“I wanted to start something that was really interactive with the children,” he said. “I developed a robotics program that I started for home-school children. We did the robotics program at the New Smyrna Beach library. It was incredibly successful. From there it migrated to Burns Academy. From there Read-Patillo (Elementary School).”

His program was run as an after-school program or club.

“Robotics is part of everyday commercial work,” Mr. Koplin said. “The idea was to stimulate interest in children that otherwise would have no exposure to these programs. The program that we have is very similar to a program run as a summer school at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh which is $2,500 per week.”

The YMCA’s program is funded through the generosity of local donors with each two-person robotics team estimated to be $600-$700, which includes the robot, tablet and parts. If a child is already registered in the Y’s after school program, the cost is merely $25 per month, otherwise it is $45.

Kristen Stansell, program director at the Southeast YMCA, said the Edgewater location is the only one with the program, but YMCA officials are trying to get it in some more of their locations.

“The children are loving it,” Ms. Stansell said. “We gave it a try this summer. We had a week-long camp. It did really well and the children had a lot of fun, so we decided to try it out as a monthly program.

The robotics program is twice a week with a lot of the children coming from the Y's after school program,” she said. “We pick children up from school and they hang out here until mom and dad get off work. (But) it’s open to everybody. We do have children from all over to give it a try. It’s been really fun. They are learning a lot about programming and they are really doing a lot of awesome stuff.”

The program consistently draws a group of students, Mr. Koplin said. “The children are doing some really advanced stuff.”

He noted the Y is trying to find programs to attract more people. In the Covid-19 pandemic, just like everywhere else, the YMCAs have taken a serious financial and human resources hit this year. “It’s been really very difficult under the conditions that we have. We have certain safety protocols. The children are safe. We really haven’t had anybody become symptomatic or get sick since June (when the program first started). The Y has been phenomenally supportive,” Mr. Koplin said.

He also mentioned the concept of gracious professionalism taught at the sessions, which means if you know something your peers don’t know, you graciously and professionally teach them to do what you can already do.

Some of the robot builds and sensor development could take 8-10 sessions. The program will continue through the school year with the possibility of it continuing in the summer or there will at least be a week-long camp then.

Amy Monahan, Volusia County Schools STEM Specialist, is a fan of the program.

“STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) jobs are in demand and are the future of our next generation,” Ms. Monahan said. “How do our students in Volusia County know about these opportunities? Robotics programs are a way to expose students to engineering and technology in an engaging way that shows what possibilities are out there. Students understand STEM by being involved in programs such as this and are twice as likely to enter STEM jobs and find scholarships to pursue these types of interests.”

The robotics program is open for enrollment. For more information, visit vfymca.org/locations/southeast-volusia-ymca/.

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