Cool Kids: TechBrick Robotics
by Terri Pilcher
Harford County Kids
For the last three years, a local group of homeschooled kids has participated in international competitions with First LEGO League. "It's so cool that we're able to use technology with LEGOs and robotics and programming," says Zach White, age 14.
"I love the challenge of it," says Amy Ciavolino, age 16, who has participated for the last four years. Her first exposure to LEGO robots was when, "my cousin gave me a LEGO Mindstorms kit." She saw the Maryland State First LEGO League championship and decided to start a monthly LEGO club at her home. That club grew into TechBrick, and Amy's father, Marco Ciavolino, became the founding adult.
"I'm astounded by the cool things they learn and the amazing things they do," Marco says. "The projects teach them everything they need to learn to work in industry: requirements, testing, evaluation, research, computer programming, planning strategy, teamwork, and creative expression."
Many of the kids gain in other ways. "I've gained leadership skills," says Amy. "I'm a team captain, but before robotics I was quiet and shy." Her father, Marco, adds, "This program is a huge investment in our kids."
TechBrick earned a spot at the international competition last year when their strong problem solving and strategy skills earned them a place among the 10,000 who made it to the finals. It's a true feat to earn a place with 200,000 people around the world involved in the program.
"Atlanta is insane, because it's in a huge conference center. It's loud and crazy," says Amy. "We got to see everyone else's robots and see First Robotics Competitions." These larger robots thrill the kids because of their size and abilities.
In January, they tried again at the Maryland state competition at UMBC to earn a spot at the Atlanta competition. They competed against 71 teams with 1,400 kids ages 6 to 15. This year's theme, Power Puzzle, called for teams to understand and create solutions related to environmental issues, energy management, and conservation.
Statistics show that kids who participate in the LEGO and robotic programs directed by US First are two times more likely to go into science and technology careers. Kids won't care about that. They'll just love that it's fun.
To learn more about TechBrick, visit www.techbrick.com
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