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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
Jim French, right, helps Julie Swindells, center, and Peggy Black work on the computer during a 4-H robotics activity on Saturday.

Theresa Martindale nervously laughed as she placed the robot she built at its starting point on a test course.

Building the robot was easy — she'd made a few in past training courses. Now was the moment of truth. Would the program she had written using a computer bring her robot to life and actually do what she wanted it to?

Peeking through her scrunched eyes, she pressed the green power button. Buzzing to life, the yellow, tank-like machine frantically spun in circles until it found the edge of the table — Martindale's hands seizing it moments before it returned to its original state of Lego bits.

Troubleshooting with other robot builders around her, Martindale determined her robot's light sensor, which determines which direction it heads, was too high. Lowering it, Martindale gave the course another go. The robot shimmied its way down the course's black line without a hitch — it's little red-light sensor guiding the way.

Martindale is a part of a group of parents learning about 4-H robotics through Utah State University's Extension Office. Many of their children, Martindale's included, have participated in 4-H robotic camps before. Martindale, along with other parents and leaders of 4-H groups, trained over the weekend to be leaders in the 4-H robotic program.

Working with Lego Mindstorm kits and laptop computers, these parents learned to build, program and teach others about robotics.

You'd probably think, "It's Lego's, what's the big deal?" Martindale asked. "But the adults are having just as much fun as the kids are."

Jim French, who facilitated the training and has been involved in 4-H programs most of his life, said the robotic's camp are a new part of 4-H club programming. He has a group of 19 youths that meet every two weeks to train using the robotic equipment for upcoming 4-H competitions. An engineer, French enjoys the time that he is able to spend with his kids working on their robotic projects.

"I like being involved with my children and knowing that they are headed down the right path," French said. "My 15-year-old son teaches the other kids. It has given him a lot of confidence."

Cathy Hashimoto, the 4-H community outreach coordinator, said confidence building is what the organization is all about.

"We want to give children life skills, and the way we do that is through experimental learning," Hashimoto said.

Originally created to disseminate new farming techniques to farmers through their children, the 4-H organization now teaches youths life skills: education in sewing, cooking, agriculture, livestock, GPS technology and business areamong a wealth of other programs.

For more information about Salt Lake County 4-H visit: www.saltlakecounty4-h.org.

E-mail: [email protected]