Sunday, July 18, 2010

Twelve robots and a chicken

This morning I took Marcus to the first session of a Lego robotics course, put on by TAG. We often see flyers and ads for these things but they are usually "age 12+". This one said "age 8+", so I signed him up for it. We have mixed feelings about TAG and about the whole world of "gifted children" and their care and handling. But if they are putting on something fun that gets a bunch of these particular types together, where they can share their particular-ness and feel normal for a while - we're all for that. 

The first challenge was pairing-up with a robo-building-buddy. There were 24 kids, and some had arrived already paired-up. The co-ordinator just twinned everyone else on an alphabetical basis. Marcus got a boy called Nicholas, and they got on fine.

In no time they had assembled a recognisable robot out of small parts and cables. These are pretty sophisticated little units - they are called Lego Mindstorm NX-1s or something like that, and they have audio detectors, colour detectors and probably even smell detectors for all I know. You connect them to a laptop by USB cable, and can then program them. I believe they retail for something like A$500.

By the end of the day all the groups had their robots together, and doing a few basic robo-things. Next week they will start programming and modifying. I am keen for Marcus to mix it up a bit during the week, by making a nice hat for the robot out of our ordinary Lego. I don't know if that is allowed.

In fact I shouldn't even suggest it. Parents are there purely as observers - we are not allowed to help, as it's well known that we'll just take over - particularly dads. I noted today that some of the dads were observing very closely indeed. I sat (on a tiny primary school chair) and chatted to Nicholas's mum and one of the other dads I knew slightly. They didn't need our help to build the robot, but even better than that - they didn't need us to tell them to calm down, or share, or not be bossy, or anything. They were just absorbed in the task and the teamwork happened naturally.

As we were driving through South Hobart to the course, we passed a chicken scratching on the footpath in Macquarie St. It's a well known chicken that sometimes visits the boys' school nearby, but I have never seen it out on the main road before.  When we returned a couple of hours later, it was still there, apparently finding whatever it needed in life to be in good supply just there.

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