It is March, the local new feeds and news papers are filled with stories about basketball and of course the “normal” stories about violence and crime.  This is a story that was missing and really needs to be shared.  It is about kids that are not sports stars, probably are not the “popular” kids at the schools and very well could be subject to difficult to deal with pressure from other students probably get a lot of flake and may be subject to bullying.

There was a very brief article in our local Georgetown KY newspaper “The News Graphic” about a competition held at Georgetown College.  This was not one of the dozen of sports competitions that are constantly in the paper, this was a competition involving robots doing very specific and precise tasks.   There were grade school, middle school and high school levels of competition.  These kids are building and programming robots made from the Lego Mindstorms  system.  The local newspaper article appeared three days after the event.  Had I know sooner I would have attended.  I was able to so some internet searches and learned somethings, the most important was that there is a state wide group called STLP (Student Technology Leadership Program) and that they were going to have a state championship competition coming up in a few weeks at Rupp Arena and Heritage Hall in nearby Lexington.   (For those of you not familiar Rupp arena is home to the UK (University of Kentucky) basketball team)

The event was held yesterday 28 March 2013, unfortunately there was now pre -event press coverage that I saw, nor was there any coverage at all in yesterdays Lexington newspaper that I saw.  (I do not read the printed version of newspapers – just the various local and national “internet feeds”.   I went to Rupp early yesterday morning specifically to learn more about the technology (I am a geek, I like technology and enjoy new (to me) gadgets.  What I learned was at least a little about the kids in the STLP programs from all over the state.  A side note here – I have never had children nor have I ever spent much time around children and in fact am barely tolerant of large groups of children.  I am particularly “sensitive” to groups of noisy seemingly out of control  children – you know the type of thing experienced at sporting events.  I actually went to learn what the STLP kids were doing with the Lego Mindstorm  Robots – something that I was only remotely aware of – after hearing about the competition at Georgetown College I was able to find some You Tube videos as well as some articles on the robots, the competition and the kids involved, not much, there just does not seem to be a lot of press coverage.

I got to Rupp early and could see that the parking lot was filled with school buses from all over the state.  Heritage hall was filled with kids and more were arriving, not an environment I would normally place myself in.  The kids were quiet, focused on putting together their booths and displays.   They were setting up computers, laptops, tablets, iMacs, iPads, smart phones, monitors, audio systems as well as digital cameras, video cameras and all sorts of technology.  There were young elementary school age kids through high school kids each wearing tee shirts with their school colors.  The kids were setting this stuff up, sure there were teachers there but the kids themselves were setting up the displays and the equipment.

The very first thing that was clearly apparent was that these kids were “different”, they were intent, focused and each group had created their own displays.   These kids were the “geeks”, “nerds”, “techies”, the kids good at math, science, physics and technology.  It sort of reminded me of the regional “Science Fairs” we had some 50 years ago when I was in high school.

Nor everything worked out of the box and these groups of kids at all levels were helping each other get their displays up and everything working.  They were trouble shooting and problem solving on the fly.    The adult teachers were allowing the kids to problem solve and get things working, not “taking over” and doing it for them as so many adults are prone to do.  These kids were fully capable of fixing things “on the fly” and certainly able to make things work.  Intent, serious kids working together in small groups getting their projects and displays up and working.  Many even at the elementary levels were very complex displays involving multimedia presentations – videos, Power Point, audios, digital photography, digital art done with Photoshop, videos done with Final Cut Pro, Avid, Sony Vegas – Presentations done with iPads and other tablets, lots and lots of computers – very complex video cameras, audios done with some very complex audio editing programs.   The thing to know is this stuff is not at all easy.   I use a lot of the audio, video and multimedia programs myself, have for a long time and it was very apparent that these kids even at elementary school levels were doing things that were far beyond what I am able to do.   I noted a couple of young kids – maybe 5th grade working on a multimedia presentation – updating and modifying a video with new pictures and video clips of their team.  There had Final Cut Pro running on an iMac and Avid studio running on a PC and were sharing clips from the PC over to the iMac – I can tell you this type of thing is really difficult to do especially on “the fly”  The Final Cut Pro program had at least 4 different video tracks and 4 audio tracks plus several effects tracks.

Out in the front lobby were a number of technical and engineering colleges with information about their schools.  There I found some displays of the Lego Mindstorm system doing a number of things.  There was one I found totally fascinating – remember the Rubik’s cube?? Yes that totally irritating cube with three levels of colored squares that you can move around in every plane so that the end result is each of the six sides all have the same color.  It can take me hours so solve that puzzle.  They had a Lego Mindstorm set up to rotate the levels, turn the cube, and again rotate the levels and this robot was actually completing and solving the Rubik’s cube.   There was a young student there maybe 10 or 11 years old at the most who explained to me how this amazing device worked, at the time it was not working correctly – it was not moving the and rotating the cube correctly and so this young fellow was adjusting gears and levers and reassembling the Lego parts while he was telling me how the thing was able to move and rotate  the levels of the Rubik’s Cube to solve the puzzle.  He got it working by himself!!!    He was not using any sort of book, manual, printed directions or asking the adults from UK’s Engineering college how to fix it – it fact I doubt that they could have fixed it.  The Rubik’s Cube machine the young “geek” explained first “reads” where the colors are on each side of the cube, it then calculates what moves need to be done, this is done with a scanner that recognizes color, position and relationship of the cube.  It then moves the rows, rotated the cube and moves more rows and after each series of moves it again scans and goes through more moves.   It only takes a few minutes to correctly solve and complete the Rubik’s cube puzzle and stops. It looks like this:

Lego MINDSTORM solving Rubik's Cube Puzzle

Lego MINDSTORM solving Rubik’s Cube Puzzle

In the same area some high school age kids were setting up a robotics display – very complex – several wheeled robots preformed a number of tasks and several of the tasks involved pneumatic devices others involved electric motors – all of this build from the Lego Mindstorm system.  Motors and gears and levers, compressed air (they inflate plastic balls) with tubes, valves, cylinders, levers – all run from “controllers” that are programmed to do each of the many tasks.

In another are there were kids setting up Lego Mindstorm robots for competition that was to occur later on as well as a “race” track to run some small model cars and some robot “wars” robots where the object is to overpower competing robots (these robots were mad of metal not the plastic Lego pieces.  I did not get to watch any of this competition but did get to watch some of the set up and testing.

The point is there are small groups of students involved in the STLP program from elementary, middle and high schools from all over the state.  These kids already are doing some really amazing things utilizing technology – all types of technology.  These kids are “different” – they are the “geeks”, “nerds” and “techies” from the schools.   They are probably the “outcasts” as viewed by the other students, they are not the sports stars, nor the extroverted “leaders” rather these are the very kids that will be leading technology advancements, they are skilled with computers, very complex computer programs, high levels of math, science, mathematics, physics, mechanics, media and more.  These are the very kids that are much needed to continue to lead the United States with advances in science, technology, mechanics, computer and information systems, engineering and all of the other things that truly makes America great.

This event did not make the newspapers, was not featured on the national news and actually what these kids and the STLP program are doing is pretty much unknown to the general public.  I am hoping that people become more aware of these programs, support and encourage this type of learning and let people know that these “geeky”, “techie”, “nerdy” kids are in fact the future of this country.

If you happen to know or have one of these kids, encourage them to get involved in this type of program.  If this type of program is not available at your local schools become involved with getting the program established.  If you happen to be with the media do something different from the “bad things” going on and do some features on very bright kids doing some amazing technical things while learning to interact with each other, help each other and become highly skilled in wide areas of advancement.  These kids deserve to be able to tell the rest of us who they are and what they are learning and doing.

Here are some links and references:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/StlpKentucky

Kentucky Dept of Education STLP site – http://education.ky.gov/districts/tech/stlp/pages/stlp—what-is-stlp.aspx

The Lego Mindstorm System – http://mindstorms.lego.com/en-us/default.aspx

Finally whether you have kids, grand-kids or not – make certain that you local schools have the resources and teachers to have this type of program.    These kids need access to computers, laptops, video and digital cameras, tablets, the Lego Mindstorm system, good science and physics labs, technology and they also need both the time and the ability to become involved with programs like STLP.

Maybe, just maybe “that kid” who has become introverted, somewhat shy, and is more into staying in their room playing video games very well could become tomorrows innovator of advancements in science, technology, physics, mechanics, robotics, computers, multimedia and things we cannot yet even imagine if given the opportunity to have the “tools”, the interaction, and the incentive to become involved.  These kids are really amazing – it is our responsibility as adults to make certain they get the chance to “shine” in their own way.  It is not on a football field, or basketball court, nor are they going to be the “class president” or even associate with the “popular” kids.    In my case I took some time out of a very busy schedule to talk with a ten year old about how his Lego Mindstorm machine was able to solve the Rubik’s Cube puzzle.   I have gained more than this kid will ever know from the experience.  I was able to watch a small group of kids moving through some very complex and difficult to learn video / audio / multimedia programs as they were “tweaking” their presentation.   These kids are the future of America and quite probably the world.  Support and encourage them in any way you can!!!