Robots at the Library

If “robotics” sounds daunting to you, well, it did to me, too.

Then I agreed to help launch a robotics program at the library where I work as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ialoveni. Now I can program a small robot to roam around the room, pick up objects, avoid collisions and roar like a dinosaur.

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More important, so can the students that my library colleagues and I have been teaching to do this and more with the Lego Mindstorms EV3 kits we received from Novateca, a nonprofit organization that promotes innovation among Moldova’s libraries.

We started with two weekly robotics classes. Word spread, more kids came, and we added a third class, and then a fourth, including one especially for girls. The kids keep coming, with their parents often lingering to watch.

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Students in the United States and around the world use the same kits, which combine familiar Lego components with a brick-shaped computer. You program the brick and then snap it together with the other pieces to create a vehicle that moves, a dog that barks or something else.

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The software is colorful and easy to learn. Here in Ialoveni, we now give new students a brief introduction and then set them loose on the first program, which tells a robot to drive forward, back and forward again. Within a few minutes, they’re clicking away. On Thursday, several new students needed less than 15 minutes to finish the first program. Then they started modifying it to make their robots rotate, pause, speed up or make funny sounds.

We’re hoping to form a Ialoveni library team to compete in Moldova’s upcoming Lego League competition, where the winner will move on to compete internationally.  (Here’s a YouTube video of last year’s event in Chișinău. My own video about Ialoveni’s program is posted above and also is on YouTube.)

Lego program

Lidia Rusu and Sergiu Blajinschi are my fantastic partners. They form groups for each lesson, work with every student, explain everything patiently and cheer as the robots perform. It’s no wonder the students are so enthusiastic.

The Lego EV3 core set costs $500 on Amazon back home. An expansion kit to build an elephant and other projects costs $154 more. That’s expensive, so it’s worth looking for a school program or club to join. If you have the money, though, and want to get a young person excited about engineering, you won’t be disappointed, so long as you both have some basic computer skills and comfort with technology. No one needs to know when you spend hours playing with it, too.

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