Partnership In Warsaw Leads To New Exposure To Robotics –

Aiden Tolson, seated in front, maneuvers his Sphero robot through the obstacle course, while, from left, Alan Martinez, Ethan Ellis, Summer Budd and Andrew Pearson wait their turn. The children participated in a robotics program offered by Baker Youth Club and the Kosciusko County Purdue Extension 4-H program. Photo provided by Andrew Ferrell.

By Lauren Zeugner
Staff Writer

WARSAW – For years when someone mentioned 4-H the first images that jumped to mind were livestock and county fairs. “There’s a whole avenue of 4-H that’s not that,” said Andrew Ferrell, the 4-H youth development educator for the Kosciusko County Purdue Extension.

Recently Ferrell connected with Tracy Furnivall, the executive director of the Baker Youth Club, offering to do STEM programming while introducing club members to robotics.

Ferrell had a few trial runs in November and December to see if club members would be interested in learning about robotics. The club members were really excited. “The excitement of the first grade kids was ‘wow,'” Ferrell said. “They just wanted to race it all over.”

The Extension office has a classroom set of Sphero robots, small ball shaped robots that are programmable through an app on an iPad.

“What I had the kids do the first meeting was run it (the Sphero) through an obstacle course,” Ferrell said. “The next step is learning how to do block programming using some serious math.”

The first meeting was held at the club Monday, March 7, and Ferrell had 22 club members, 11 kindergarten through second-graders and 11 third through eighth graders. Ferrell and his program assistant, Tammy Boggs, worked with each age group for about an hour. He also noted both age groups had about the same number of girls to boys participate.

“We have enough kids to work with an individual robot,” Ferrell explained.

During the first meeting, some club members were familiar with using an iPad or had done some coding before, while others hadn’t had that much experience but were eager to try.

The next meeting will be held Monday, March 21, where Ferrell will again set up an obstacle course and instead of operating the robot remotely, they will learn how to do coding so they can instruct the Sphero how to go through the course.

“There’s a lot of guess and check work and hypothesis work involved,” Ferrell said. “That’s the next stage we’re working on.”

He said he expects the younger kids to do more guess and check work and spend more time honing in on their guess work while he expects the older club members to catch on a bit faster.

“You have to make an educated guess and then figure out if you went too far or not far enough (in the course). It’s a reasoning skill and critical thinking part, ”he explained.

The partnership between the 4-H program and the Baker Youth Club qualifies as a Spark Club in 4-H. A Spark Club is one meeting for a very limited amount of time, usually for about six hours, and focuses on one subject. Ferrell said he could see this particular Spark Club developing into a full blown 4-H Club and he’s looking for volunteers who would be willing to help him make that happen.

“These types of things, this is just one part of what we (the 4-H program) have to offer in robotics.” Ferrell said. He hopes exposing children to something like robotics, where they may not have much experience, may help them consider possible career paths or hobbies to pursue in the future.

“I love it!” Furnivall said about the partnership between 4-H and the club. “We started a robotics club a few years ago… Then COVID hit so we lost our energy. So with 4-H coming in has been a blessing. ”

Furnivall said he is always looking for opportunities for different entities within the community to partner with the club.

Furnivall also praised Ferrell and his team for the job they’re doing with the kids. “I think it’s fabulous,” he said.

For youth who may not be members of Baker Youth Club but are interested in robotics, they should have a parent or guardian contact Ferrell at (574) 372-2340 or at [email protected]

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