STEAM in Action: Robo mazes

Designing mazes while learning more about robots.

Robotics is a popular project area for youth to try out, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. Robotics involves a lot of content and learning around the topics of building, engineering and programming which takes a lot of initial time investment with youth. Team members from the Michigan 4-H Tech Wizards program have employed strategies to engage youth quickly around robotics while still encouraging creative thinking, teamwork and a desire to learn more. In two settings, robotics mazes were successful in engaging youth, one as part of an on-going program and another as part of a one-time event.

Mark Cowan Jr., Mentoring to Access Corps member in Macomb County, had youth interested in using robotics during a regular program meeting. In order to introduce robotics quickly and encourage them to delve deeper into the project with mentors, Cowan started with pre-built, pre-programmed robots, but kept a creative element. Youth and their mentors had to design a maze with various obstacles and then navigate the robots through the maze. This method required teamwork amongst youth and their adult mentor, allowed for creative thinking and built interest in how robots work—leading to further projects and learning.

In a different setting, Will Shemer, 4-H program coordinator in Kent and Ottawa counties, used a basic robotics maze to quickly engage youth at a large scale event. During a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) career awareness event, Shemer hosted a booth using iPad controlled rolling robots and a large PVC pipe maze on the floor. Amongst hundreds of other vendors and thousands of participants, this approach drew tons of attention. As importantly, it was still an educational and skill building approach. In learning to navigate the robots, youth worked together and starting asking questions around how the iPad controlled the robot, what programming was involved and how the robot was built. Following the Experiential Learning Process, this allowed staff to engage in further “application” questions around careers that might be involved in answering those questions.

Using robotics in a variety of ways is a favorite project for 4-H Tech Wizards mentoring sites around the state. Interested in being a mentor and helping Cowan and Shemer come up with innovative projects? Contact Cowan at 586-307-8934 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or Will Shemer at 616-994-4578 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Michigan 4-H Tech Wizards is a 4-H Youth Mentoring program offered by Michigan State University Extension in numerous communities in Michigan. The program uses various STEAM projects to help youth build long-term mentoring relationships with adult mentors. Since the focus of the activities is to strengthen their mentor relationship, projects often put a unique spin on STEAM that encourages improving communication, teambuilding and life skills.

This series, STEAM in Action, features various creative approaches and the mentoring staff member who facilitated these great ideas. Watch for more STEAM in Action articles featuring creative project approaches from our team!

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