FOR THE HERALD
The U of L department of mathematics and computer science held Robotics Day as a part of Computer Science Education Week at the 1st Choice Savings Centre on Saturday.
Jacqueline Rice, associate professor in the department of mathematics and computer science at the U of L, said hosting the event was a great way to provide a learning environment where kids could do hands-on projects. Faculty members and volunteers were on site to provide guidance and answer any questions.
"Essentially, we are hosting this event to try and interest kids of all ages in computer science," said Rice.
Technology is advancing at lightning speed, and that leaves some with concerns that kids aren't being taught some crucial skills for the future.
"There's a bit of a problem in North America with not giving kids this kind of exposure in school," said Rice.
"When they get into university they have no idea how valuable technology and computer sciences are going to be in pretty much everything we do."
Professor Stephen Wismath agreed that a focus on the field of technology is becoming increasingly important in early education.
"I do think computer sciences should be concentrated on in schools. I think it is a critical literacy skill that young people will need," Wismath said.
"Even if they aren't going to become computer scientists, I think that some basic knowledge is very important."
Wismath set up a table during the event to showcase a new 3D printer recently acquired by the faculty.
Kids and adults huddled around the large black box and peered inside as a snowflake figurine was created before their eyes. Wismath explained how prices for the printers have dropped dramatically, and that a high school student could easily learn the 3D modelling software that is required to create 3D figures.
"I don't think it is a complicated technology to learn, and I think that we'll all have them in our houses in five years," said Wismath.
Initially, U of L Robotics Day was slated only to include a workshop with projects created with Lego NXT robots, a programmable robotics kit.
Due to demand, a PicoCricket project room was added to the event for the younger kids. PicoCrickets are tiny computers that can be used to create musical sculptures, interactive jewelry and many other projects.
Faculty members also brought some research along to showcase, including the 3D printer, a Kinect motion-capture demonstration and an EEG software demonstration. Edacity, a group that recently hosted the science-themed Xtreme Challenge for high school students, also joined the event.
Edacity is a not-for-profit program for rural youth that showcases careers and post-secondary options available in science and technology. The program is offered by the Science Alberta Foundation. SAF looks to provide engaging resources to motivate children, youth and families to embrace lifelong science and technology learning.
Computer Science Education week runs today through Saturday and works to raise awareness, particularly in the kindergarten to Grade 12 environment, about the importance of computer science education and its connection to careers in computing and other fields.