engineering

4-H First Robotics Experience

By Alexis Nadeau, Alyssa Newell, Emmit Starkweather

Robotics team after winning competition
Team 3555 receiving the first place award at the 2018 Bay State Brawl competition.

Innovation is a modernly essential pillar to human development and growth into the future. It is this innovative thinking that the organization For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology or FIRST seeks to harness within adolescents and young adults. Focusing on the fields of STEM — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics –FIRST wishes to fuel interests in the younger generations.

State of the art organizations such as the First Robotics Program help to assist students in grades 9-12 with learning the difficult but necessary skills that shall be required to continue the technological growth and innovation which our era depends. Some of the careers that require these skills are mechanical design, electrical engineering, software engineering, and manufacturing. Certain teams in the first robotics program, such as ours (Team 3555) are 4-H clubs.

“My experience on the 4-H First Robotics Team has provided me with access to more knowledge than I was able to acquire previously, and has introduced me to better overall materials than I would have access to otherwise,” club member Nick Mercado said.

The way the club works is that students are allotted a time known as a build season, where each team is given six weeks to build a robot that will be used to compete in various competitions across that state. Each branch of our team does different tasks and works together with the other parts of the team in order to build a robot in a fast and efficient way. For example, the mechanical design people work on the technical sketches of the different components of the robot, while the electrical engineering people work on the wiring and the electrical boards.

While these two branches do very different things, they have to cooperate to make sure that all of the electrical components will be able to fit and work on the mechanical parts. Likewise, people operating in the software engineering branch have to program the robot so that it moves, which requires significant communication with people in the electrical and design branch. This is because the programmers need to know the electronic components that will be used in order to program them correctly, and they need to know the design of the robot, so that it is programmed in a way that allows it to move smoothly and effectively.

After the six weeks, our robot is taken out to various competitions around the state where it competes with other teams in doing certain tasks, such as lifting up boxes and putting them on levers, climbing up walls, or shooting balls at specific targets. The adrenaline rush that is experienced is wild, as the arena is constantly filled with the passion and excitement that is elicited by the thrill that comes with having the crowd at the competitions.

“Both optimists and pessimists have a place in the world. The optimist will build the robot, and the pessimists will bring the safety bucket,” club member Sam Secondo said about the challenge.

The competitions offer many new learning experiences for those who join the 4-H First Robotics Team. Students work under stress, cooperate with other teams, manage safety, show leadership, act graciously, show professionalism, demonstrate quick thinking, and take quick action, all of which are unquestionably valued by the 4-H program. Last year, the team had performed in two out off-season events: Bay State Brawl and the Where Is Wolcott.

“Without the 4-H First robotics program, I wouldn’t know even half of the information about engineering and mechanical design that I currently know,” said club member Alexis Nadeau.

Many people in today’s era strive to learn the new skills that drive the engineering world, and the 4-H First Robotics Program gives students the opportunity to be part of a team that teaches the fundamentals of engineering.

4-H in the Summer: Libraries Rock!

By Pamela Gray

geology puddingEvery summer, New London County 4-H provides programming to our local libraries. These partnerships benefit the libraries as 4-H provides technological equipment that are not affordable to individual libraries (especially the rural libraries in our county) and a range of experiential learning activities not readily available to libraries with limited staff. 4-H activities are easily adapted to fit any age group and is beneficial to every individual, regardless of their learning abilities. The theme this summer, 4-H Libraries Rock!, was a 7-session summer program giving participants the opportunity to do STEAM-related activities (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math).

Instead of taking a two month break from school, participants continued learning over the summer, promoting greater learning at school, more enthusiasm in the classroom, and a desire for experiential learning outside of the classroom. 4-H Libraries Rock! encouraged youth to work as a team, taught how problem-solving leads to success, and gave a general understanding of STEAM concepts.

A successful experience from the Janet Carlson Calvert Library (Franklin) involved young adults with special needs. These individuals were able to take part in the activity “ROCKets to the Rescue”. Together they assembled rockets made out of cardstock and launched by stomping on a soda bottle connected by PVC piping to the rocket (aka air propulsion). It was a challenge for the special needs participants using large motor skills to stomp on the soda bottle. However, with patience and assistance, they were thrilled to see their rockets shoot into the sky.

4-H Libraries Rock! programs at Groton Library and Otis Library (Norwich) reach a diverse community. The central locations of the libraries make them available to ozobot rocknroll dance partychildren and families who do not have transportation and need to depend on public transportation or walking. The majority of the youth participating in these programs make up urban demographics and may not have caregivers who are able to enroll their children in costly summer enrichment activities. 4-H’s involvement in these communities encourage and enhance youth’s cognitive development through the summer.

Today’s youth rely heavily on technology to solve problems and for some youth, experiential learning is intimidating. The first week of 4-H Libraries Rock!, youth made foil boats. They pulled out their cell phones, googling the best way to make a boat that will hold the most pennies before sinking. The 4-H instructor asked “Why would you use someone else’s knowledge when you have a brain of your own?” The phones were put away, and never came out again for the rest of the summer. Other kids engaged in negative self-talk: “This is stupid.” “This is not fun. Can I leave?” “I can’t do this.” Encouraging positive remarks, from the 4-H leaders and from kids to each other, such as “Let’s try again.” “That’s so awesome!” “Can I have help?” were game changers for the youth. They brought family members into the library to see what they were doing, and started each week with a ‘can-do’ attitude, no matter the activity or how challenging.

For more information on 4-H STEM activities, or how to get involved in 4-H, contact your local 4-H Program Coordinator here.

4-H Grows True Leaders

Article by Maryann Fusco-Rollins

Sean at fair
Photo: Maryann Fusco Rollins

Sean Murdock of Tolland was 8 years old, and out playing baseball that he first heard about 4-H. In between innings he and a teammate started talking about their hobbies, and interest in building with their hands. Sean enjoyed learning how things worked and took household items apart and rebuilt them. That day, Sean learned about a local 4-H small engine club called the Piston Pushers.

Sean went to observe a 4-H meeting at the barn of 4-H leader Mike Hoffman. There he met Mike Hoffman and Mark Kloter, co-leaders of the Piston Pushers 4-H club. The barn houses a workshop, and the club’s business and project meetings are held there. Sean joined the Piston Pushers 4-H club in 2010, and started learning how to safely and efficiently rebuild a tractor. He hoped to enter, and one day win, the UConn Tolland County 4-H Fair small engine and tractor pulling competitions.

At the 2016 Tolland County 4-H Fair, Sean won best of show for his tractor and placed third in the tractor-pulling contest, pulling 4,050 pounds. He also received a blue ribbon and best in show for a 3D printer he built and entered. Sean credits Mr. Hoffman with teaching him everything he knows about tractors and small engine design. “The 4-H logs and financial recordkeeping component taught me important organizational skills,” Sean says. But most important, Sean attributes gaining self-confidence in his abilities, to working with Mr. Kloter.

“Mr. Kloter always encourages me to take the next step,” Sean continues. “It was Mr. Kloter who encouraged me to join the 4-H Fair Board of Directors (Fairboard) in 2014. Mr. Kloter is a part of the Fairboard Advisory Committee and thought I would enjoy the experience.” Fairboard is made up 4-H members; ages 12-18, who plan all aspects of the annual 4-H Fair. Over 2,000 people attend the Tolland County 4-H Fair each year. With Mr. Kloter’s encouragement, Sean ran for and was recently voted in as an officer for 2017. It was also because of Mr. Kloter’s encouragement that Sean entered his 3D printer in the 2016 Tolland County 4-H Fair.

Sean built his 3D printer from a kit. He improved on the kit design and created a metal frame to replace the kit’s plywood frame, by sourcing his own parts, cutting a plywood frame, then updating the frame by sending out the design to a machine show to get it cut in a thicker cold roll steel. Sean taught himself the Computer Aided Design (CAD) programming. Mr. Kloter was very impressed with Sean’s work and wanted him to enter it in the fair along with his tractor. Sean was apprehensive about entering his 3D printer and speaking to the public about his work. Sean explained, “If it wasn’t for Mr. Kloter encouraging me to enter my 3D printer in the Fair, I wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of all the other opportunities that have happened.” Winning at the 4-H Fair was just the start of an impressive summer for Sean.

As Sean was preparing for the 2016 4-H Fair, his former teacher Celeste Estevez was attending the UConn Engineering Joule Fellows program. The Fellowship brings K-12 teachers from across Connecticut to the Storrs campus for a six-week summer engineering program. While attending, Ms. Estevez talked to Reza Amin, a graduate student with the Tasoglu Research Group, about Sean and how he helped the Tolland Middle School to get a 3D printer.

“I had been interested in having a printer for our school, but cost was a barrier,” Ms. Estevez says. “Also, there were no other printers in the district and no one with expertise on how to run or maintain them. I had been talking with Sean about 3D printing since he was in 6th grade and at the end of 7th grade I asked him if he would be willing to suggest a kit that he would then build for us. He agreed and then he presented the budget request to the PTO. At the meeting, he gave an overview of 3D printing, brought some of his models, and showed a video of his machine in action, demonstrating his knowledge of additive mechanics. After seeing and listening to Sean, the PTO voted unanimously to approve $1000 for all the parts for the kit, and 8 rolls of filament. I created the SPARK award in honor of Sean.” The annual award recognizes students who use their talents and do something that ‘sparks’ activity in and for the school.

The Tasoglu Research Group invited Sean to work on a project this past summer, and he built a chip microscopy holder. Mr. Amin said that Sean worked so well on his first assignment, that they asked him to join the team. The lab typically takes on promising undergraduate students and teaches them how to properly conduct research. “This is the first time we have asked a high school student to join us,” Mr. Amin says. Because of his experience in 4-H, when the Tasoglu Research Group spoke with Sean about joining their lab, he was ready.

Sean Murdock is presently in 9th grade. He is a member of the Piston Pushers 4-H club and Second Vice President of the 4-H Fairboard. He is working on an electromagnet design for the Tasoglu Research Group. He hopes to attend UConn and is interested in electro mechanical engineering and computer science.

Tolland County 4-H STEM Mini Field Trips

STEM Mini Field TripThe Tolland County 4-H Program, which is part of UConn Extension hosted three fun and educational adventures close to home that focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Junk Drawer Robotics allowed youth to become an engineer with things from around the house! We constructed: tooth brush eco-bots, marshmallow launching trebuchets, and a mechanical arm. Youth also discovered how to think like a scientist, communicate like an engineer, and build like a technician.

Science in the Kitchen focused on muffin madness, discovering my plate, staying safe in the kitchen, baking soda balloons, and much more! Getting messy in the kitchen has never been so much fun! Youth discovered the science of cooking while exploring amazing ways to be healthy and safe with food.

During Lost in the Woods, youth went on an adventurous nature hike where we used GPS to identify trees, orienteered to find hidden messages in letter boxes and played games to learn about wooded habitats.