This summer, a group of 4-H students ages 7 to 15 met at the Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne to debrief their robotics projects—with the head official of their state.
“It was one of those once in a lifetime experiences, the governor talking to the kids one on eleven,” comments 4-H volunteer Hannah Fields. “That’ll stay with them for a long time.”
She and her husband, Matt Fields, lead one of the 4-H robotics groups in Laramie County.
When the spring 2022 program commenced in March, most of the 12 students enrolled had never encountered programming language.
Only a few months later, the same students were chatting animatedly with Governor Mark Gordon about their robotics projects, including innovative robotic solutions to city planning issues, and the awards they’d earned at the annual Showcase Showdown 4-H competition in Laramie.
“Once they start doing the hands-on stuff, it clicks,” says Fields. “It’s like learning a language—and these kids got it.”
In this case, the language was Scratch programming, which students used to design and build robots capable of competing in sumo wrestling competitions, obstacle courses and more. They returned from the Showcase Showdown competition with high spirits—and high marks.
“Robotics doesn’t fit into 4-H at all—until you realize people in ag rely so much on technology these days, from using GPS to milking through high-tech systems, and more. If you know how to code, to program, it opens up doors for you,” Fields explains.
To complement their coding ventures, students were also asked to think critically about how robots could be used to address city planning issues, both hypothetical and real. How could a city better manage its waste, for instance?
One solution, the young programmers proposed, might involve coding robots to cart away garbage, using sensors to detect when the trashcans were full.
This fall, the goal is for students in the Laramie County program to compete in First Lego League robotics contests, which are held at the state, national and global level.
Ultimately, it’s about helping students realize their potential and find opportunities to explore possible careers in STEM fields, says Fields.
“Maybe someday we’ll see these kids on Shark Tank, or as the heads of Apple,” she muses. “It’s really exciting to see glimpses in these last few months. Given the right opportunities and experiences, kids really can go above and beyond.”