At a long drawing table in the Rolling Robots playroom a line of 4 and 5-year-olds in a "Bots for Tots" class are learning beginner coding concepts with a little help from a roving robot named Ozobot.
Proud moms eagerly watch from the entry as their children draw out a route on paper for the tiny robot to follow.
Ozobot, like a little pencil sharpener with eyes and flickering lights, is a line follower and can recognize color. By making color combinations the children (who are actually paying attention to the teacher) can code the robot to do different things.
The captivated kids might make the robot speed up, slow down, turn left and right, record a nitro boost, or make u-turns.
Rolling Robots is the 10-year-long brainchild of Bing Jiang and her husband Dr. George Kirkman. The Palos Verdes Estates residents are both former aerospace engineers and self-proclaimed robotics nerds.
Their vision is to teach youngsters how to code, then move them up in stages to more complicated technology. By the time the kids are in junior high and high school, they are designing their own functioning robots and competing in tournaments.
Robotics is inspiring, imaginative and it can be very, very technical—in a fun way, Jiang said.
“One of the keys of learning about robots is you can’t have a fixed curriculum for the youngest kids,” Jiang said, pointing to another room where the 7 year olds were working on coding with computer tablets and a bulbous-looking robot named DASH.
“The key is to work with them and inspire the kids to ask questions,” said Jiang.
High school students teach the middle schoolers, and 6 year olds get on their knees and help teach the Bots for Tots levels.
Jiang said by the time children get on competitive teams, they need to really understand coding, building and teamwork. They also accumulate life skills by working and playing at something they love.
And the kids are winning awards all over the place.
The high schoolers recently received a $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams™ program for “a device to monitor sleeping conditions and habits” they invented.
Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams™ are comprised of high school students, educators and mentors all over the country who each receive monetary awards to invent technological solutions to real-world problems of their own choosing.
Arash Eslamian, one of Jiang’s full-time employees is a self styled manager, mentor, teacher and all round gopher for Rolling Robots. He teaches programming language so the kids can achieve their next level of challenge.
“Team members develop a robot that can play most of our games and teaches them what works and what doesn’t,” said Eslamian who works mostly with grades 3 to 5. “Eventually they will build a new robot for competition, but the ultimate goal is to get them to their highest level.”
Dr. Azzie Farin has three children who love attending the robotics summer and after school programs.
“We view this learning experience as preparation for the future,” Farin, a working mom and neurosurgeon said. “They are being taught versatility in the skills and knowledge they’ll need for what lies ahead.”
Rolling Robots also offers homeschoolers and after school learners workshops, birthday parties where kids can build their own robots, summer and winter camps, and competition teams to help kids develop an appetite for learning robotics.
Jiang's view of successful teaching is for kids at any age to walk into the workshop with a smile and out the door with a smile.
“The more you allow them to try and figure things out, they will develop the ability to learn,” Jiang said about her little Bots for Tots students.
“Once they get going, they will learn the skill how to learn and with that, they will eventually surpass us.”
Rolling Robots is located at 700 Silver Spur Drive in Rolling Hills Estates. There are also locations in Glendale and West Los Angeles. Visit RollingRobots.com for more information.