March 15, 2014 11:50:30 pm
There is a tutor and there are students. Concepts of levers, wheels and axles, energy, forces and motion are explained and discussed. The students make use of these and create simple machines – a windmill, an eggbeater, a letter stamping machine or even a power car.
This is not a classroom of higher secondary students trying to cram concepts in their heads to prepare for their final exams. It is a hobby class of children between seven and 14 years of age.
This is a typical classroom of iRobokid – a venture started to introduce children to the magical world of machines and robotics at an early age.
Four friends from diverse backgrounds – Jinesh Shah, Vishal Shah, Kaushal Chedda and Suhas Acharya – came together to start iRobokids about two-and-a-half years ago and have already trained more than 1,500 students.
“We wanted to come together and do something meaningful in the education space. Often maths and science are seen as boring subjects in school. Students learn concepts such as circumference, speed, distance, angles and wonder where they are going to put these concepts to use. So, we thought about introducing a module where these subjects can be made practical,” says Jinesh.
The group has designed separate study modules for the age groups of 7 to 9, 9 to 14, and 14 and above, and has tied up with about 10 schools in Mumbai such as Don Bosco, St. Joseph, Goldcrest High, JCBN International to ease its students into the world of robotics. Setting up a robotic laboratory is an expensive proposition for schools since it requires an investment of anywhere between Rs 9 to 14 lakh. iRobokid has set up its own mobile robotics laboratory, which is wheeled from school to school.
In this classroom, children are divided in teams of two and are given situations they can relate to. They then put their heads together with their instructor and try to work out a solution to address these situations, which boosts invention and creativity. “Once, we asked children between to come up with something that can keep Mumbai’s roads clean while considering that it is a big city with traffic and so on. They created their own sweeper car, which we tested on a table full of garbage and it worked very well.”
While the module for younger children involves creating things to reduce human effort, older children between the age of 9 and 14 years are encouraged to create machines that can replace humans. They are taught the use of various sensors – touch sensor, colour sensor, light sensor – and are introduced to advance programming. Using these, children have created wonders such as mining robots and race cars.
Soon after rolling out iRobokid, the team realised that parents are very apprehensive about enrolling their daughters for the programme, clinging on to the age-old belief that girls have neither flair nor interest in mechanical engineering.
“That is certainly not the case. Once we had given kits to the various teams and asked them to make a garden. A girls’ team created something that was supremely different – a sunflower garden with light sensors moving from the east to the west, and with them the flowers,” Jinesh said.
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