Robotics Conference Provides Outlet for Adult Learning

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JEFFERSON CITY - Teens and adults alike have been rolling robots into Truman Hotel all evening. That's because Missouri 4-H and the Missouri AfterSchool Network are hosting the first ever Missouri Educational Robotics Conference Friday through Sunday. The conference focuses on providing knowledge to adults and youth leaders in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

The conference is an exciting opportunity for Garret Johnson who has been working on his school's robotics team in Camdenton for three years. As a new student, the team was a chance for him to find his niche but has grown as a way to foster his love for science.  "Ever since I got started I've been interested in engineering and maybe even possibly going into petroleum engineering," Johnson said.  This weekend gives Johnson a chance to show off his and his team's work when he drives the big robot which will shoot basketball hoops on Saturday.

Robotics offers students from elementary age on a chance to learn about STEM concepts, build robots and even take part in national competitions. But Johnson's coach, Mitch Comer, says that the actual robot is the least important part of the program. To Comer, it provides the chance to encourage growth in areas of science that students may otherwise overlook.  "The educational environment is changing," Comer said.  "They kind of expect to be entertained instead of just lectured to.  Robotics is an excellent way to get the student engaged in the curriculum, tied into the regular day classes."

Though the conference isn't turning away teens, it's more about reaching out to adults who want to get involved but may not feel comfortable in their own technological knowledge. The classes the program offers extend from concepts like what a robot is to sophisticated concepts of programming.

Programs like Camdenton can use the help. Coach Comer put in 400 hours of extra work beyond the classroom last January and February, which is the prime building season for competitive robotics teams.

The teams have been a haven for a growing interest in technology in youth. Bill Pabst is the 4H Youth Specialist with the University of Missouri. He says that he gets calls every day from parents looking for ways for their children to get involved in STEM projects. For him, after school programs such as 4H are the best way to see students become proficient in these fields of the future.  "In striving for world class athletes, if all we had was gym class, we would not have any," Pabst said.  "If all we have are the technology classes and science classes, we are not going to have world class scientists and engineers."

Adults and teens can still register for a one day pass to the conference on Saturday.

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