Harris' Heroes: Gaithersburg pre-school kids design, build their own robots

A focused young man works on his robot. (WJLA)

GAITHERSBURG, Md. (WJLA) -- At the Goddard School in Gaithersburg, kindergarten students aren't just building with Legos. They are young engineers - and their assignment is to make a robot that will clean-up their toys.

First, they design their robot. Then they build the robot using different colored magnetic cubes called "cubelets" that have wheels, sensors, and a battery. And finally, they test it. And if the robot doesn't work, they try something different.

Jim Worley, owner of the Gaithersburg early childhood center, says "[It's] very much the same exact processes that NASA uses to build spacecrafts."

Worley is an engineer by profession, and he says when he went to college, he really had no idea what an engineer did. So Worley, together with the school's education director, developed a program geared to four and five year olds.

"At this age they're sponges," said Heather Kramer, director of education at the school. "The more experiences we can give them at this age, the more they may try things later on."

Added Worley, "What we really want is for them to feel that engineering is fun, and it really is."

The young engineers would agree, especially when they see their creations come to life.

"This robot can also do cool tricks, like move up and come back down," said five-year-old Dillon Crnkovich as he demonstrated.

"If you put your hand here, it will move," said five-year-old Ella Patil as she put her hand in front of the robot's sensor. "But if you don't, then it wouldn't."

Five-year-old Bryan Golub was even more enthusiastic and exclaimed, "I hope I can do it like every single day."

While the hope is that some of the young students go on to be engineers, all benefit from the program.

"They're going to be able to apply it to everything they do, at home, in future grades... and it's been so great just to watch them run and watch them explore," said the student's teacher, Amanda Olenwine.

The robotics program is part of a 10-unit program that also includes magnetism and electricity. The school is now working on a curriculum for even younger children for next year.

To learn more, click on The Goddard School

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