Jennifer Kay doesn't mind mixing a little fun with education. In fact, the associate professor of computer science at Rowan University (Glassboro, N.J.) knows that in some ways entertainment can be a valuable teaching tool.
Next month, she's taking that attitude to Texas to prove that with teachers and professors from around the globe.
Kay is teaming with Tom Lauwers, chief roboticist, BirdBrain Technologies (Pittsburgh), to coordinate a Robot Hoedown & Rodeo during SIGCSE 2011, the 42nd Association for Computing Machinery Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, on March 9–12 at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel and Conference Center. The conference usually draws 1,200 attendees.
An award from the U.S. National Science Foundation and a donation from iRobot Corp. are supporting the Hoedown & Rodeo event.
The SIGCSE Symposium is held yearly to address problems common among educators working to develop, implement and/or evaluate computing programs, curricula and courses, according to the organization. Participants have opportunities to share new ideas for syllabi, laboratories and more.
The aim of the Hoedown & Rodeo is to allow SIGCSE participants, most of whom are computer science professors or teachers, to program a diverse collection of robots used in education.
"We're really excited about giving those computer science educators who have never programmed a robot before the opportunity to do so, particularly since many robots are becoming both easier to use and more affordable, " Kay says.
About a dozen faculty and researchers (known as "wranglers") from academia and industry will bring more than 50 of their own robots to the conference for the Hoedown & Rodeo. Participants will write programs for two kinds of challenges. In the Hoedown, they will program the robots to "dance" along to a short country music clip. In the Rodeo, they will try some themed challenges that are tailored to the abilities of the different robots.
On Thursday, March 10, the wranglers will give demos.
Throughout the day on Thursday and Friday, March 10 and 11, computer science teachers and faculty will program robots. All robot types will participate in the Hoedown, dancing to "The Chicken Coop Shuffle."
Robots will participate in different challenges, based on their sizes and shapes, in the Rodeo. Robot-specific rodeo challenges will be demonstrated during breaks in the conference on Friday, March 11, and Saturday, March 12.
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