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No Longer Child's Play

No Longer Child's PlayAn innovative engineering professor at Tufts is using LEGOS and robotics to teach sophisticated engineering concepts.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [08.07.02] It may be summer vacation, but that hasn't stopped a room full of 10-year-old students from embracing lessons in physics and mathematics. Using an innovative tool developed by Tufts' Chris Rogers, teachers at New Zealand's Ilam School are using computerized LEGOS to cover sophisticated science and engineering concepts.

"It's really important to find a different way of teaching, and this is it," teacher Vanessa Mansfield said, describing the Roger's "Robolab" tools to the New Zealand newspaper The Press. "The emphasis now is on teaching skills rather than content, and the skills children learn here apply across technology, maths and science."

Halfway across the world, in a classroom in Oregon, 8-year-old students are using the same tool to tackle concepts of scientific design and computer programming.

"There's a math class here. There's a lot of reading," instructor Jim Dufala told the Oregonian, describing the process children use to build interactive robots that can adapt to their environments. "How do we gather data? They're learning how to research things, like the floor surface and how flat the floor is."

Combining LEGOS with computer-controlled motors and sensors, Robolab allows students to build devices that accomplish a wide-range of challenges.

"Using technology developed at Tufts University, the simply assembled LEGO robots can walk, turn and even fetch a cup of coffee," reported the Oregonian.

The international impact of Roger's Robolab is a good sign for the Tufts engineering professor - a Fulbright Scholar and former Massachusetts Professor of the Year - who hopes more and more students become comfortable with science concepts at a young age.

Even first-year engineers at Tufts use the high powered Robolab software to put their advanced engineering concepts to use, Rogers said in the Press' article, which also appeared in London's Financial Times.

"He says students enrolling for engineering degrees at Tufts are quickly introduced to Robolab as a means of helping put their early-stage maths and science studies into engineering context," reported the Press. "Dr. Rogers runs weekly classes where the undergraduates are challenged to build sophisticated animated models."

Once they work with Rogers, many Tufts engineering students head back to elementary and secondary school classrooms to help future engineers form a solid foundation in science.

"Dr Rogers has been responsible for a mini-migration from Tufts, as 14 of his undergraduates and post-graduate mechanical engineering students have spent time in Christchurch [New Zealand] furthering their academic studies and helping with his Robolab classroom work," reported the Press.

Even if many of the students don't choose to become engineers in college, Rogers says the program will still have an important impact by ensuring that new generations aren't intimidated by technology.

"I don't want anyone to be able to say they don't know how to pull their video recorders apart," he told the Press.


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