VIDEO: Robotics program motivates future engineers

VIDEO: Robotics program motivates future engineers

May 9th, 2012 by Carey O'Neil in News

Battle Academy students, from left, Norah Wells, 8, David Hicks, 6, and Reilly Wood, 6, work with their robots on Tuesday at the TVA PIE School Robotics Showcase held at TVA Lookout Place in downtown Chattanooga.

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

When 6-year-old Reilly Wood realized the carpet in his room had turned to lava, he quickly fashioned a bridge out of a coat hanger and a jump rope to escape to safety.

Escaping that "lava" is a common game Wood plays. Whether crafting rope bridges or playing with LEGOs, the first-grader likes to build.

After a hard day Tuesday showing off the machine his robotics class built to Tennessee Valley Authority volunteers, he said he was glad to have taken part. Wood's school expanded its robotics program to first- and second-graders for the first time this year.

"I like building," he said. "It makes your mind think, and it's fun."

Wood and 17 of his Battle Academy classmates joined about 150 other area students of all ages at a robotics exhibition on the TVA campus Tuesday. This is the fourth year TVA has held the exhibition and the eighth year the utility has sponsored robotics classes across the county.

This year alone, TVA donated about $30,000 to 16 area schools, helping fund their after-school robotics programs.

"We want to encourage students to be involved with math and science," said Charley Spencer, the TVA manager who oversees the program. "Ideally some of these kids will go to school, get an engineering degree and can work for us."

School budgets are strained. It can be difficult for math and science teachers to find the couple of thousand dollars needed for a robotics program.

Spencer said TVA's mission as a utility fits well with the education cause.

"We want to be involved in the community. We want to be involved with the schools," he said. "Lots of kids wouldn't get the exposure."

About 200 kids across the county take part in robotics programs. Every year, students are given a series of tasks to complete and must design and program a robot to carry them out. Their teams then compete with other state programs where they are scored not just on effectiveness of their robots but sportsmanship and teamwork.

"They see it not just as school, it's a creative area," said Scott Rosenow, Battle Academy's magnet facilitator and coach of the school's robotics team. "A little of themselves goes into what they create."