February 6, 2012

There May be a Robot in Your Junk Drawer

Keri Hannukainen
4-H Youth Mentor

As many of you may be aware, Governor Rick Scott strongly advocates the STEM fields as vital sources of economic growth for the country. The exponential growth in the science industries in the past few years has opened up unprecedented opportunities in both job markets and scientific advancement. 4-H is ahead of this curve and has been pursing project areas in the sciences for many years now.

This year, the 4-H program has expanded another branch of study for the 4-H curriculum: robotics. Prompted by the declining trend in our nation’s science, engineer, mathematics, and technology workforce, 4-H has developed a comprehensive robotics program as part of the National 4-H’s goal to engage one million new young people in science by the year 2013. In order to achieve this goal, 4-H Robotics is currently being delivered through 4-H clubs, camps, school enrichment, and after-school programs nationwide. Using this curriculum, 4-H members will engage in service learning and community service projects, develop leadership and citizenship skills, and develop numerous life skills taught in 4-H clubs nationwide.

The Junk Drawer Robotics track is a three-level series that encompasses the spirit of engineering and the thirst for knowledge that drives 4-H members towards success. According to the national 4-H website, “in each module of this track, youth will learn about a different aspect of robotics and design and build a robot using what they have learned. This track emphasizes developing knowledge and…skills as participating youth design and build their own robots.” In order to keep track of their achievements and receive additional information, the “youth will use their Robotics Notebook to record their learning experiences, robotic designs and the data from their investigations.”

The activities and their complexities in the Junk Drawer Series vary according to the level of the book. As the series progresses, the activities naturally become more complicated as they build upon the knowledge learned throughout the series. None of the activities, however, require the use of a computer. The materials used in this program are mostly common household items such as rubber bands and paperclips. This simplicity of these parts fosters the ingenuity of the 4-H members, challenging them to innovate and to explore in order to create fantastic products.

At Level One: Give Robots a Hand, the youth learn how to think like engineers. The youth learn to communicate the same idea through various methods and how robots manipulate objects. Using all of this knowledge, the youth then construct a robotic arm.

The activities in Level Two: Robots on the Move teach the youth about friction, electric circuits, electromagnetism, gears, and buoyancy. The 4-H members will then construct an underwater ROV using the skills they have learned throughout the book. Most importantly, however, the youth will learn about the constraints of a budget. The youth will be asked to create a robot as efficiently as possible—a task that all engineers must do.

The activities in the Level Three: Mechatronics teach the youth about different types of circuits, sensors, binary, logic, components, and processors. In addition, the youth will learn the basic elements of programming and instructions for robotic computer control. As their final activity, the youth will design and construct their final robot.

On the web site, there is a sample activity from the Level Two: Robots on the Move workbook. This activity teaches 4-H members how to construct a Clipmobile. The following is a description of the activity from

In this activity, you learn about friction, about the engineering design
process and how understanding friction and design can help you build more
efficient machines. Like all the modules in Junk Drawer Robotics, there are
three types of activities; (1) To Learn activities where you learn about how
things work - the science behind robotics, (2) a To Do activity where you learn
about engineering and design their own solution to the Clipmobile Challenge, and
(3) a To Make activity where you apply technology as you actually build and test
your design.

Since many of the activities require multiple participants, it is highly recommended that this curriculum be used as a Club project book. Average Joe’s and French Villas 4-H Club will be using the Junk Drawer Robotics series as its club project book this year. If you are interested in using the Junk Drawer Robotics series, please contact the 4-H Extension Office.

This exciting and challenging series tests the ingenuity of the youth, forcing them to persevere in order to succeed. Unlike other do-it-yourself kits, the Junk Drawer Robotics series challenges 4-H members to innovate and explore, instead of merely following instructions. Moreover, this series places the focus upon science and engineering in order to engage 4-H members in these rapidly expanding and desperately needed job fields.

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