The theme for this year’s Summer Reading Program was “Build a Better World”. I think it is safe to say that in the world of the future, robots will be doing most of the building. I once heard someone say, “There will be two types of jobs in the future…telling a computer what to do, and being told by a computer what to do”. With that in mind, the Putnam County Library hosted a three part robotics programming workshop for kids and teens during the Summer Reading Program. We want to lead the way for our community to be on the side of telling the computers what to do. With such a focus on STEM learning nowadays, and with the 2017 YALSA/Dollar General Summer Learning Resources Grant that we received this year, we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to host a programming workshop and it would be the ideal way to steer our community in this direction.
This entire program came about with a partnership with Cummins Filtration, an engineering corporation with a distribution center and offices located here in Cookeville, TN. Cummins provided much needed volunteers (robotics mentors), while the funding for the robots was provided by a generous summer reading grant from Dollar General and YALSA, as well as a donation from Cummins. The idea was to get kids interested in robotics and programming. The more they get interested when they are younger, the more this should translate to a desire for learning eventually leading to future engineers and programmers. So, using the grant money from DG and the donation from Cummins we bought our very first robots. They are Star Wars BB-8 droids made by Sphero and they are magnificent. Through an app we are able to manually control these droids as well as program them to run autonomously. The plan was to have kids program these droids to run a maze. So we set up the program, created a curriculum, collaborated with our Cummins volunteers, invited kids, and crossed our fingers.
The results were better than expected. In the first session, we had 17 kids ranging in age from 6-16 (and a few parents that wanted to participate). Many of them stayed for the entire 3 program event and others came on board later. In the first event, we taught everyone what robots were, why we use/program them, and the fundamentals of programming. Next we went through some simple programs with our droids and found out just how difficult it can be to correctly program a robot and account for all the variables. Finally, in our last session, we programmed our droids to run the maze. And they did it! Our programs worked! The droids raced through the mazes to reach the end!
With the success of this program comes the inception of even more robotics programming. We are still working on the specifics and logistics of future programs, but rest assured that more droids will be invading the Putnam County Library soon.
Written by Phil Schaller. With a BA in History from the University of Florida and a MLIS degree from Valdosta State University, I currently work as the Assistant Director/Adult Services Librarian of the Putnam County Library System in Cookeville, TN. This position is also in charge of collection development and programming for the young adult part of the library. I have a love of gaming of all kinds and have recently gamified our SRP with the result of having a much increased buy-in from teens and adults patrons.