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Trip STEmpower

This blog was written by Rohit and Sidharth Srinivasan, who traveled to Anbarasi orphanage in December 2015 to teach the children there robotics. Thank you to the Srinivasan boys for your dedication to the children and STEmpower-ment!

Trip STEmpower: Three Glorious Days Teaching Robotics at a Miracle Foundation Home

By: Rohit Srinivasan and Sidharth Srinivasan

We had the most amazing Christmas of our lives when we spent 3 days at Anbarasi, a Miracle Foundation Home in Southern India for local orphans. Besides the fun we had spending time with kids of our ages, it was really heartening to watch the kids transform into skilled high school level robotics designers. Seeing how quickly these kids picked up very new concepts was proof that STEM education can empower kids (we will call it STEmpower-ing) to do amazing things if they are in Austin or at Anbarasi orphanage. That was also so in line with the Miracle Foundation mission to “Empower orphans to reach their full potential.” This transformation was the result of a hands-on robotics class we taught them using a curriculum that we developed with the guidance of Science in a Suitcase (SIAS), the Miracle Foundation team and our coach from Austin’s Westlake High School’s FRC team (Team 2468). The class was conceived to be delivered across four different sessions, some intended to reinforce concepts previously taught by SIAS and others to introduce some pretty advanced concepts.

1. The first session was both an ice breaker with some fun activities as well as a refresher to what SIAS had taught on their trip earlier. We asked them to create a kicker. Then we introduced the concept of an iterative engineering process for a mini competition to see whose kicker would kick the ball the farthest. To help them with their design we introduced the idea of how torque worked and the trade-offs between torque and speed.

2. In the next session we took it up a notch and taught them all about gears and asked them to create a spinning top. While they were constructing their tops we explained to them how gear ratios work and how the gear ratio effects the torque and speed. Then using the knowledge they learned about gear ratios we asked them to create a robot that would spin a spinning top. We again held a mini competition where they would again use the engineering process and the concepts of gear ratios to make a spinning top that spun for the longest duration.

3. Session three was our favorite since it really pushed their creativity. We introduced them to Dr. E’s Challenge of the Month which is an open ended design challenge and required them to build something that would go on/under water. They got so into it for hours that some of them even skipped lunch so they could keep working on their robots.

4. The final session was intended to provide an opportunity for these experienced robot designers to mentor younger newbies on the material they had just learned. This was the first time some these younger kids had even used computers. After the lesson we had a pizza party to celebrate a job well done!

These four sessions were a huge success and we accomplished more than we had originally planned. The kids got really excited to learn about engineering concepts and a process for building the best robots. We ended up choosing from 13 robots for Dr. E’s Challenge. We selected the top five and uploaded to Dr. E’s Challenge website. One of them even got second place and a couple of others were in joint third! This challenge allowed the kids to express themselves in ways they had never been able to express themselves before. We gave the teachers the entire curriculum and the links to the monthly challenge so that they could continue to nurture these kids until we went back next year. See the highlights of our trip across these 4 sessions here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5VM9uEygYg&feature=youtube_gdata

We have several takeaways from this incredible experience:

1. Firstly, we were stunned by the overall progress these kids have made. These kids have gone from having never even used a computer mouse to building robots in the 5 months since Miracle Foundation set up a computer lab. Google Maps and Hangouts were their favorite sites. It was very comforting that they would have no problems entering the work force and making global connections despite their original hardships.

2. These kids were as creative as any American kid. Many of the robots had a lot of engineering creativity and some of them even had a creative story around what the robot did. These are kids who did not have channels to be creative but at this first opportunity, they were immediately excelling in that area. Pavitra is good dancer and 2 years ago all her creativity was applied to copying Bollywood dance moves. This time she applied her creativity to building a robot that had dancing birds and with a novel great train that converted horizontal rotation to vertical rotation.
Bollywood Plus Robots!

3. These kids had a general excitement, curiosity and a big desire to work hard and learn more about robotics and the engineering world. They were very mechanically inclined and were keen to know about the subsystem of robots we have previously built. Saravana Kumar is one of the smartest and most hardworking kids that we encountered. He was always the first to answer any question including the one on calculating gear ratio for complex gear chains, in the picture below. His robot also was the most complex. It had a complex gear box that converted horizontal motion both into a horizontal motion and spinning in the vertical axes without any bevel gears as you can see below. We were thinking we need to recruit him for our FRC team right away!
Rohit and Sidharth teaching

Robotics

4. The kids collaborated very well. The big kids helped the little ones and they all worked together to give each other ideas on how to solve engineering problems. This reminded me of how our robotics team 2468 collaborates when trying to solve an engineering related problem. Our Christmas was like few others in the world because we were able to help kids discover their engineering passion. This was first-hand proof that STEmpower could possibly change their life arc regardless of their origins and upbringing. We left them with knowledge that they could pass on to the younger kids in the orphanage. We plan to make the curriculum open source so that people can add to it and make it better. We hope this is a relationship that can last forever and we can play a small role impacting kids’ lives through STEmpower!

Acknowledgements:

A big thanks to the Miracle Foundation and Science in a Suitcase for the opportunity and the support in making this trip happen.

About the Authors:

Rohit Srinivasan is a sophomore at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas and a member of the Westlake FRC Robotics team (Team 2468). In addition to his passion for STEM education and building robots, Rohit is also the Team Lead for Financials and Partnerships for TEDxYouth@Austin, an independently organized TED event and is a part time researcher at UT Austin Mechanical Engineering Department. Rohit has been volunteering with the Miracle Foundation for 5 years and has been on three visits to Miracle Foundation Homes.

Sidharth Srinivasan is an 8th grader at Hill Country Middle School in Austin, Texas and a member of the Hill Country Vex Robotics team (Galactic Cougars). Sidharth is also the Team Lead for Application Development for TEDxYouth@Austin and a singer with Consipare Youth Choirs. Sidharth has been volunteering with the Miracle Foundation for 4 years and has been on three visits to Miracle Foundation Homes.

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