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Fair's robotics events are draw for students

Robotics are central to much of the activity in the Mace Tech Center at the Jackson County Fair this weekend.

A 4-H Lego Sumo Challenge was to be staged Tuesday night and more Lego robotic action was scheduled tonight and Thursday. And there are plenty of opportunities to whet one's appetite in a field where math and poetry connect.

"It so happens that robotics is a fantastic way to get students involved with science, technology, engineering and math," said Grant Plowman of Interactive Media Publishing, a curriculum company based in Phoenix. "They get their hands on it and realize there is a whole area to explore. Studies here and Europe show where the robots go, students follow.

"You often find techies who are also interested in linguistics, English, anthropology and arcane language-related academic areas, who gravitate to programming and find they have a strong knack for it," Plowman said. "If you write poetry, you probably have the skills to be a programmer as well."

Plowman's company is taking part in its first fair, but has been a front-runner in developing teaching materials for middle school and high school robotics classes.

High schoolers use a kit and three-dimensional CAD drawings to build a robot from the ground up, then are given programming challenges for what is known as a Boe-Bot.

"Boe stands for board of education," Plowman said.

Middle school students work with a pre-assembled Scribbler Robot.

"They work in what we call a graphical programming environment," Plowman said. "It allows the students to build in commands by grabbing graphical elements and dragging it onto the screen. It's capable of playing music or different sounds. You can create your own songs and movements. Girls like to program the robot to dance."

The Scribbler also is designed to hold a writing utensil and can be programmed to write names.

"Each letter takes about 10 to 15 minutes to program," he said.

Interactive Media Publishing will be at the Mace Tech Center afternoons and evenings throughout the fair.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.