Perot TECH Truck teaches coding, robot building

Teenagers and kids learned how to code and build their own robots when the Perot Museum TECH Truck visited the East Irving Library on Wednesday, Aug. 2.

The TECH Truck, short for “Tinker, Engineer, Create, Hack,” is a mobile extension of the Perot Museum that travels throughout DFW bringing hands-on exhibits and activities focused mostly on the STEM and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) fields.

“We are an outreach program and we do STEM-based activities for youth for neighborhoods that are underserved in some way,” said JC Bigornia, manager of the Perot TECH Truck. “Our goal is to reach populations that can’t get to the museum for whatever reason. We do a lot of engineering activities, because I think engineering is a good way of combining a lot of the elements of STEM and STEAM together, and we want to inspire future inventors and creators.”

During this visit, Bigornia taught the kids to make robots. Using simple parts like plastic cups and craft sticks, along with a battery-powered motor, kids created robots of their own design able to move and “battle” other robots.

“[The kids] are making really simple robots that move through kinetic motion,” Bigornia said. “They have a motor attached to them that spins around with an off-centered counterweight. The counterweight makes the robot vibrate back and forth. They’re supposed to design something to knock the other robots off the table, so it’s a little competition as well.”

In addition to making battle robots, kids also tried their hand at coding using markers and a high-tech tool called an Ozobot.

“[Ozobots] are a really nice teaching tool for learning basic coding,” Bigornia said. “They have color sensors on the bottom, and you code them by drawing. There are different commands they are programmed to respond to depending on the color combinations used. It’s a nice way of teaching coding from a really young age all the way up to middle school and younger high school.”

This was the final event in the East Irving Library’s teen summer reading program, “Out of This World.” Rose Mary Cortez, branch manager of the East Irving Library, said this year’s summer program was a big success for not just the East Irving Library, but for all branches of the library.

“We had a really good turnout at this location,” Cortez said. “From what I’ve been hearing from managers at the other branches, everyone had a good turnout all summer long. A lot of our programs were STEM-based. It keeps the kids interested, the parents coming back, and helps them keep learning during the summer. They’re having a great time and they don’t realize they’re learning.”

Cortez added that STEM-based programs at the library help to familiarize kids with basic concepts and to boost their confidence in those fields.

“It helps them to know this is not anything strange or out of their reach,” Cortez said. “If they can do it now, they have their confidence built up, and they know this is something achievable and obtainable as they get older and go through their high school years and into college.”

Amber Carmean, a teacher at Clifton Early Childhood School in Irving, took her two children, Mia (10) and Maddox (7), to the event.

“[STEM] is the one thing people tend to struggle with as they get older,” Carmean said. “I know for me that was always my struggle, and I just didn’t enjoy it. If we can get them excited about it now and let them see how much fun it really is, then we hope they’ll keep being excited about it and they’ll realize there are so many things in the world that involve science and math.”

JC Bigornia from the Perot Museum agreed getting kids interested in STEM early will help shape the inventors and engineers of tomorrow.

“For kids, it’s about combining their different interests and about creative problem solving,” Bigornia said. “A lot of that stuff, they don’t get to do in the classroom. I think it’s really important for kids, as they’re growing, to be able to combine those different experiences, because that will be really important in the careers that they follow.”

About the Author

Ariel Graham
Ariel Graham is a freelance reporter and blogger. She graduated from Texas Tech University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronic Media & Communication in December of 2011. Prior to moving to Dallas, she worked for AM 790 KFYO in Lubbock, Texas, as a commercial voiceover actress, board operator, and producer for “Lubbock’s First News” & “The Chad Hasty Show.” She also wrote a weekly technology blog “The Geek Girl Report,” as well as various news stories and podcasts for the station. She is currently working on her new blog “Super Geek Girl Report,” and in her free time, she enjoys drawing, video editing, and playing video games.