Throughout the summer, ASSiST teams have been visiting the Children's Museum of Houston's Inventors' Workshop as part of the museum's Sci-Fi Summer. Reaching out into the community and introducing younger children to STEM and robotics has been an incredible experience to say the least. From driving the robot wannabe (a simple robot made from the same materials as FIRST Tech Challenge competition robots but not quite as advanced, hence "wannabe") to customizing and programming LEGO Mindstorms (small robots used at the FIRST Lego League level), visitors have experienced just a taste of what FIRST robotics has to offer.
During each of our 12 visits, we typically set up a half-field (the grey box with a Plexiglas perimeter seen in the photos below) that housed our wannabe and the competition robot of one of our 4 FIRST Tech Challenge teams (Error 404, Team Name Wanted, DDoS, and Redstone Warriors) if they were visiting that day. When Thunderbolts, one of our two FIRST Lego League teams, came to visit, they set up an impressive Lego competition board and brought Lego EV3s to customize. During each visit, we tried to have some Lego NXTs (the younger brother of the more advanced EV3s) for about 30+ students a day to add attachments to and drive.
Visitors of all ages delighted in our different attractions. From toddlers to grandparents, everyone was welcome to give our materials a run and experience the real whimsy of robotics. As their young children effortlessly took to the robots, parents expressed how they have never seen their children so interested in something like this before. Parents saw a spark light in their child(ren)'s eye when they worked with the robot, a spark they had never seen before. We had quite a few parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and caretakers sign up to be given more information about FIRST and ASSiST as they were so blown away with how much their young ones loved the exhibit.
Perhaps the most amazing and gratifying aspect of this opportunity has been the response the children themselves have given us about their passion for STEM. I have had countless interactions with eight-year-olds who seamlessly took to constructing additions for a Lego Mindstorm, telling me about how they are going to be a scientist or an engineer when they grow up. Their imagination took over as they fashioned drills and wings out of regular LEGO pieces, transforming a brick with wheels into an oil rig or intergalactic voyager. They watched as I programmed the small bot to move autonomously and were able to recreate and improve upon the program right after learning it for the first time. I heard many exciting spiels from the children about robotics and different science fields that come not from forced memorization but from the genuine passion of young minds. The level of inquisition and lack of inhibitions from the students were truly inspiring and led to some intricate, otherworldly robots.
Personally, it was an honor to go back to the same museum I spent much of my childhood at and give back to the local community. Though I am currently a International Relations major, I spent much of my adolescence involved in STEM fields and originally planned on becoming an oncologist. Though I ultimately decided to go in a different direction, I have a very soft spot in my heart for promoting and providing education about STEM. I am proud to say that ASSiST has done an excellent job of that mission this summer over our 12 trips to the Children's Museum where we have inspired hundreds of students to reach for the stars.
To the future scientists, engineers, astronauts, artists, inventors, creators, and bright minds we met this summer: may your flicker of curiosity never extinguish and your interests never be exhausted. You were all incredible to work with, and I hope that STEM continues to be something which inspires enlightenment, engagement, and passion. Our world will be a much better place with all of your brilliant minds in it.
A very special thank you to the Children's Museum of Houston for hosting us this summer and allowing us to help them educate and inspire young minds.
Please see some of the photos we took at our outings below!