EHA Robotics Summer Camp 2018
by Jake Futterman
On July 20-29, I travelled to Ethiopia with Ethiopia Health Aid (EHA) to teach a week-long robotics summer program that I developed for middle schoolers at Gode Primary School in rural Ethiopia. It is the first phase of my overall vision to create a sustainable robotics program that could potentially be expanded, replicated, and implemented in other rural schools.
Upon arriving in Ethiopia and observing the living conditions, I had a moment of doubt–was bringing robotics to Ethiopia the appropriate mission for kids who barely had food, water, or a roof over their heads? However, I was soon disproven. Kids who had never used computer keyboards before, who wondered why the keys weren’t in alphabetical order, were, in the end, able to build and program their own robots and comprehend complex concepts like light sensors and motors.
I spent 7 days in Ethiopia and taught the 5-day robotics camp from 9am-2pm, teaching students the basics of robotics and STEM ideas using LEGO Mindstorms EV3 technology. Working in small teams, students learned to design, build, program, and operate simple robots, culminating in a challenging and fun robotics competition.
My main goals were to teach them how to use LEGO Robotics and to help the students learn how to innovate, problem-solve, and work as a team, as well as develop an understanding of innovation design and STEM-related concepts that can greatly influence their future.
Day 1: Intro to Robotics and Robot Building
- What is Robotics?
- Materials and Set-Up
- Building the Robots
Day 2: Programming Movement
- What is Programming?
- Basic Movement
- Drive in Straight Lines
- Challenge: Move in Square using Loop
Day 3: Programming Sensors
- Light Sensors
- Stop at Lines
- Challenge: Stay in Square
Day 4: Prepare for Final Competition
- Issue the Challenge
- Design the Solution
- Test and Refine
Day 5: Final Competition
- Final Preparations
- Robot Design Presentations
- Robot Tournament
- Judging and Awards
- Robot Design
- Robot Performance
My favorite experience of the program was the culmination of their skills in the final competition. All of my initial doubts and fears were put to rest as I witnessed the kids greatly surpass my original expectations. They were able to apply everything they learned and design their own robot components to accomplish a complicated mission, as well as write working programs on computers they were introduced to just days before. When they realized how intense the competition was and how much it mattered, every team fought to win. Learning and competing was so much fun for everyone. It was an “ah-ha!” or “lightbulb!” moment for both me and the kids. They realized that they were capable of solving the challenge and possessed the knowledge and skills do to something great. I too realized that even those who have been never exposed to new technology before, or live in mud houses and get to school on horseback, truly have potential to do something great. I knew that this mission was most definitely the right thing. The kids were so engaged in robotics and learned so much throughout the week. It was an amazing moment because I saw what they were capable of and I knew that we accomplished our mission.
When they realized how intense the competition was and how much it mattered, every team fought to win.
I learned that anyone can do something great. I had my doubts about teaching robotics to kids from one of the most destitute countries in the world. However, just because they don’t live in a place where things like robotics are important, doesn’t mean there aren’t brilliant kids there. For example, EHA founder Dr. Gudata Hinika himself grew up in Gode Village, across the dirt road from the school I was teaching in. Now, he’s a leading trauma surgeon who works in LA and who has saved countless lives. He is smart, kind, caring, and continues to give back to the place where he grew up. I believe that there were more kids just like him in my robotics class. Some of those kids already did great things and will continue to do even more. Someone’s background shouldn’t define what they can and can’t do, and I believe that anyone has the potential to accomplish their goals and make an impact on the world.
Someone’s background shouldn’t define what they can and can’t do, and I believe that anyone has the potential to accomplish their goals and make an impact on the world.
More kids kept showing up, and with each one, the administration pleaded, “Please, just one more.”
Before the trip to Ethiopia, I had asked EHA’s summer school coordinator to pull together a list of the top 12 students from Gode school’s grades 6, 7, and 8. However, on the first day of summer school, dozens of students of many different ages showed up to take part. Word got around that a unique, new class was coming and they were eager to take part. We had only enough materials and space for 12 kids. Any more than that would take away from their chance to work with the robots and cause chaos in the small classroom. However more kids kept showing up and with each one, the administrators pleaded, “Please, just one more.” How could we turn away one girl when there were only two others in a class of 20? How could we exclude the boy who had walked for hours from the farm? We resolved to include as many students as the room could hold. Even then, when everyone returned after lunch on the first day, there were more kids than there were before. The next morning, there were again even more waiting outside the door. When I called roll each morning, we discovered a few kids had snuck in to join. Those who could not come in clung to the window bars and peered in to watch the action. One student who missed the first day and was subsequently turned down on day 2 later returned with his father, an imam (a religious leader like a priest or bishop). Dressed in full traditional garb, the dignified holy man implored, “Please take my son, he is disturbing my mind!” In the end, the class had doubled in size. News had spread throughout Gode about the exciting new class with amazing little computer-driven machines. Everyone wanted to learn something new and take part in the fun.
While my trip this summer was a success, the EHA Robotics mission is not over. I am preparing a year long lesson plan for a robotics after school program. Some of the top students from my class will be continuously meeting monthly or bi-monthly for an after school robotics session until I return for the next class next summer. They will be continuing to explore and solidify their knowledge of some of the concepts we learned this summer by following the workbook I will be providing. This will increase their knowledge and expertise with both building and programming the LEGO Mindstorms robots. Next year, I will be returning to teach another class. This time, I will incorporate both some of the veterans from last year with some brand new students. In time, the program will expand to a point where the kids from Gode are able to compete on that global level.
In Oromo culture, a special gift is given to a young man as he enters a new family and stage in his life. He is given a handwoven, traditional Ethiopian blanket called a gabi. The gabi is very warm and one of the few possessions of the traditionally nomadic Oromo people. At the end of the program, I was touched to receive my own gabi from the leaders of Gode school. I am so thankful to be welcomed into the Gode Village family and for the warmth, care, and hospitality they provided throughout my stay in Ethiopia. They have changed my life forever.
I am so thankful to be welcomed into the Gode Village family and for the warmth, care, and hospitality they offered me throughout my stay in Ethiopia. They have changed my life forever.