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SPRING BREAK: Science Mill Has Robot Mania

Kids enjoy the Flipper Bots during the 2017 Robot Mania at the Science Mill. The event returns for Spring Break, March 12-16, at the Science Mill, 101 S. Lady Bird Lane in Johnson City. Courtesy photo

JOHNSON CITY — As technology continues to permeate our lives and create careers of the future, Spring Break at the Science Mill is a great opportunity for kids to explore an every-widening part of STEM: robots.

The Johnson City science, technology, engineering, and math museum is hosting Robot Mania on March 12-16.

“Our mission is all about engaging kids in STEM careers,” said Holly Barton, the Science Mill director of operations. “Robotics is really a big part of STEM fields and is a possible career path for many students. It’s a lot fun to think about the possibilities of what robots can do to help us, from underwater exploration to remote surgery to agriculture.”

Kids can try their hand at a different robot activity at 10 stations. These stations are: battle flipper bots; design a rover on the race track; drive robotic cars around obstacles; program tiny robots to navigate a course; toss a ball to a swatting, heckling robot; paint an artistic masterpiece with a watercolor ’bot; control a robotic snake, armadillo, or longhorn at Critter Bots; build a robot-shaped figure with giant blue socks; invent a robot dance in the Science Mill photo booth; and control a colossal 30-foot steel robotic hand.

In one project, Barton said youth will use “small Ozbots that specialize in reading colors, (and) kids will use colored markers to draw a course for the Ozbot to travel.

“By creating specific color patterns and combinations, kids can make the Ozbot spin around, speed up, slow down, reverse direction, zig-zag, and more,” she added.

The youth will use an iPad and mBots to control a robot car, but they can also take it a step further.

“Using a simple block programming language, kids can also program (the cars) to make certain moves,” Barton said. “We’ll set up, on the floor, an obstacle course and ask kids to drive — or program — the robot to maneuver the course.”

Robot Mania is open to all kids with or without robot or coding experience.

“The activities are designed for kids to learn from the beginning, or there are more advanced challenges in the activities for those who have some previous knowledge,” Barton said. Along the way, participants can learn basic programming and coding skills. “We hope that kids will either find a new interest in robotics or increase any previous interest they had. We also hope that some of these activities might break down any preconceived ideas that someone ‘can’t’ do it or help someone see that robotics can be accessible to all.

“But most of all,” she continued, “we want kids to be curious and have fun.”

Robot Mania activities take place from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. March 12-16. The Science Mill is also open the extended hours of 10 a.m.-5 p.m. those days to give people a chance to explore the additional 50-plus exhibits and 3D movie.

Admission for the Science Mill is $8.50 for students (with ID) ages 3-18; $10 for adults; and $8 for seniors 65 and older and military members. Children 2 and younger are admitted free.

The Robot Mania events are included in the general admission.

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