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“Areh bache! Return to class!”
The teacher’s booming voice couldn’t stop them. The students, identically dressed in white polo shirts, navy shorts, and polished shoes, climbed on top of one another to see if they could catch a glimpse. “There it is!” a student yelled as he pointed at a robotic puppy running across the floor of the classroom. With an ultrasonic sensor fixed to its head, the puppy scanned the room, and “chose” to scurrying around the chairs, bumping into, then maneuvering around the legs of the principal, Ms. Sujata Kumar. I tried to study her face for a reaction. The kids gave a roaring applause, chanting, “More! More!” As the teachers hastily ushered the students back to class, I worried that my presentation had gone wrong. Was I too disruptive? Would she see my robotics curriculum as educational? The principal sternly surveyed the classroom, tables and seats ajar. Even the robotic puppy seemed nervous.
Let’s take a step back for a moment.
“What’s that?” Vihaan, a younger neighbor of mine, pointed at the First Lego League robotics table across my living room. The table had an inordinate number of robot parts, ranging from microcomputers to temperature sensors. Vihaan wanted to know everything about compartments on the table. I found myself not only explaining general robotics and the programming language that accompanied it, but also building and programming a mouse-trap with him. The next week Vihaan came with more friends to my house and a weekly tradition was born. I’d hold up a broken whiteboard, drawing algorithms for all different types of scenarios (light-sensors, if/else statements, loop functions). One day I learned that a frequent attendee of my “lectures” had wanted to learn about robotics for years, but just hadn’t been able to afford classes.
After hearing his statement, my life changed; I started Invent-A-Bot.
I migrated my classes from my small living room to my elementary teacher’s classroom after-school. Through word of mouth, Invent-A-Bot expanded to ten schools over the next three years. I found myself thrown into situations that equipped me with new responsibilities: kids stayed in my classes for continuous years, parents from different counties begged to send their kids to learn robotics, even the local community college offered me a yearly summer teaching spot at their Ohlone for Kids program.
And now here I was, demonstrating my curriculum to St. Mary’s high school, a prestigious public high school in Pune, India. Principal Sujata Kumar looked up at me and her blank expression transformed into a welcoming grin. “We’d love to have you teach at St. Mary’s and use your curriculum in the years to come.”
Six years ago I was teaching sensor algorithms to my friend in my living room. After three years, Invent-A-Bot was the most affordable technology camp for anyone in the Bay Area. And now, my curriculum was going to be used for 5 years at one of best schools in India; I was going to be compensated $15,000 for the program; hundreds of students would be exposed to Invent-A-Bot. By sharing my love for technology with students all over the world, I create opportunities for them to change their communities through computer science. I’m proud that my students, equipped with knowledge and passion for technology, can create programs with far-reaching applications in fields such as alternative energy, healthcare, education, global factors that raise the quality of life for the entire world. Even one robotic puppy can make a difference.
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