“Yes, it works!” shouted Parker Ciu, his eyes wide with excitement.
A small robot danced on the table before him, spinning and wobbling, casting colorful spirals on a sheet of paper.
It wasn’t a complicated robot — certainly no R2-D2 or WALL-E — but building it was an impressive feat for Ciu and his second-grader friends.
In groups of three and four, members of a new computer club at Powers Elementary School in Amherst puzzled out how to turn foam arrows, electric toothbrushes, rubber bands, and markers into a buzzing, art-making machine.
Slowly it dawned on them: Put the battery in the toothbrush, squeeze the toothbrush inside the arrow, and use the rubber band to attach the marker “legs” tips-down.
Ciu said the trick was figuring out how to evenly distribute weight so the little robot wouldn’t tip over. His teammate, Anthony Schubert, said it was hard to figure out how to assemble the pieces.
Their persistence paid off, and soon their little “doodlebot” was bobbling around.
“You built a machine. Think about that,” advisor Amanda Sears told the kids. “In second grade, on your own, you built a simple robot that could draw for you.”
Nearly 35 young students answered her call to join the club. A large number were girls, which is important in engineering and technology education, where boys tend to dominate.
The doodlebot project was their very first assignment.
But looking around the Powers library where they gathered, we noticed that computers were nowhere to be seen — a conspicuous absence for a computer club.
“My goal is to keep them off the computers as much as possible,” Sears said. “I want them to see that computer science is about for more than computers. It’s about collaboration and problem-solving.”
It also doesn’t have to be about spending a lot of money on high-tech equipment. You don’t have to shell out $80 for a Sphero kit to learn about basic robotics, she said.
Her doodlebot materials were purchased at a dollar store, and each project cost less than $5.
The club meets monthly and right now is for second-graders only.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.