Puttin’ It All Together: Robotics STEM Academy
The first ever Puttin’ It All Together: Robotics STEM Academy is being held from Sunday July 25 through Friday July 30, 2021, in the Red Cloud Suite within the Willa Cather Dining Center on UNL’s main Lincoln campus. Dr. Chuck Gardner, Director of Curriculum at CYBER.ORG along with CYBER.ORG Curriculum Development Specialist Jon Ownby, have traveled to Nebraska from Louisiana to share their expertise and enhance the overall capacity for completing STEM tasks for 15 of our NCBVI transition-aged clients. These clients come from all corners of the state and span the entire length of our coverage area. Four of them have also participated in WAGES this summer and another four are currently enrolled at the Nebraska Center for the Blind.
The entire Puttin’ It All Together: Robotics STEM Academy is taking place on UNL’s campus as participants are staying in the University Suites Residence Hall and eating meals in Willa Cather Dining Center, which adds a college preparatory aspect to the program. The basic structure of the Robotics STEM Academy consists of participants spending Monday through Thursday in training for 8 hours each day, concentrating on the Robotics and STEM skills development and then spending the evenings engaged in seminars and other community outing activities, which continue the learning and create a bit of fun in the process. JB&K Services out of Colorado is providing the evening activity oversight and overnight dorm coverage. They are a Pre-ETS provider partner who has contracted with NCBVI in the past to enhance our client’s leadership and work readiness skills development. They are leading STEM Academy specific activities but are also inviting and sometimes joining the WAGES group for joint experiences, such as the indoor climbing wall at UNL.
Now, about the main training. CYBER.ORG’s robotics curriculum has been designed with accessibility for the blind in mind from the ground up. All participants are receiving, assembling, and programming their own BOE-Bot robots. These bots are rover-like vehicles with two front rubber wheels and one rear wheel, kind of reverse tricycle style. They can be assembled independently by blind persons with very little to no adaptation to how sighted folks would assemble them. Once together, they are programmed in the BASIC programming language in software that is both low vision and text to speech compatible. Lines of code can even be written and imported from Microsoft Word. Each of the participants is also receiving a new Windows-based PC to complete the coding and to use throughout the remainder of their school or beginning work journey’s. Once the participants construct more complex circuits various sensors and components, the bots can be programmed to perform a variety of tasks. There are sensors to measure distances, measure gravity and acceleration, create led lights, output speech through a synthesized voice and speaker and much more. I believe the Board of Commissioners and other interested parties will be seeing this first hand at the culminating showcase we like to call the Robot Rally. We also have a BOE-Bot on hand for folks to check out during the focus topic session.