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Techsters Engages Girls in STEM

On Saturday March 23, 2013, Techsters was held at the VCU School of Engineering. The event was sponsored by RichTech Women in Technology. It was an opportunity for girls, grades 6-8, to learn about robotics and a small remote control device called Spherothe world’s first robotic ball. This event was part of a STEM initiative to attract middle school girls to technology. All of the volunteers were women who worked in various areas of technology. I am a middle school student and I attended the event. I enjoyed this experience for many reasons.

Sphero looks like a regular bouncy ball, but bigger. The Sphero changes colors while it drives. Each Sphero has its own designated colors. In the app you can change its default color. It can be a little tricky to drive, but becomes really easy once you play with it some more.

During the 3 hour session, we had an opportunity to learn about macros and Bluetooth. The Sphero is a small sphere that uses Bluetooth to connect to an Apple or Android device. Once you download the Sphero app you can drive it like a remote control car. All of us worked on our driving skills by driving it through various obstacle courses.

After driving the Spheros through the obstacle courses we experimented with macros. In computer science a macro is a string of commands that have been grouped together to perform a certain task. Once the macro has been saved, you can use it to accomplish a certain task, instead of having to issue the individual commands.  

We began by watching the Sphero run with the premade macros that caused the Sphero to do figure eights or flash its lights like a disco ball. After watching the Sphero run on the premade macros, we began creating our own. The macros could do anything from making it change colors, flashing its lights, or drive in some crazy zigzag pattern. Some girls even tried to make the Sphero form the first letter of their name.

I liked the fact that the event was just for girls and all of the volunteers were women who worked in technology. They were professionals in areas such as App Designers, Engineering and IT Recruitment. They all came together to foster our interest in science. The day also gave us a chance to experiment with the Sphero. One of the things I learned was working with macros from a different perspective. I have worked with macros in the past, using a programming language called Scratch, but this gave me an opportunity to work with more complex macros and a 3D object. I would recommend this session to any middle school girl who likes technology or robots.  

If you would like to join the mailing list for Techsters 2014 click here.

To learn more about the Sphero visit gosphero.com.

Article by Sophia Fehrmann, 7th grade Middle Scholar at Millwood School

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