David Roung
“Having fun can lead
to some valuable experiences,” says David Roung.
David Roung
“Having fun can lead
to some valuable experiences,” says David Roung.

A new home. A new school for his son. And a new robotics project.

All three started for David Roung, an IBM offering manager, when he moved from the Netherlands to Germany in 2009.

What began as a way to participate at his son’s school has become a ten-year commitment to help young people learn and appreciate how robotics can lead to valuable skills.

IBM Volunteers spoke to David about leading robotics activities and his current volunteer project helping students with disabilities.

David, how and why did you start volunteering with robotics?
I decided to start this volunteer initiative at my son’s school to celebrate my country transfer from IBM Netherlands to IBM Germany. I privately purchased 10 LEGO Mindstorms robotic kits and started to organize robotics workshops at his school and also at other elementary schools in the Hamburg area. That’s how it all started.

What is LEGO Mindstorms?
LEGO Mindstorms is a robotics kit made of LEGO building pieces and electronic parts such as sensors, motors, and a computer, which can be assembled and programmed through a graphical interface.

The children and students build and program robots following instructions in the education booklet or on the web. In the process, they learn to follow instructions, work in teams—there are two students per kit—visualize in 3D, understand how sensors work, and learn to program and debug.

It started with one school, but your involvement expanded
Yes, it has! In the last 10 years, I have taught robotics to about 500 children, aged eight to 12 years old, in 20 schools. I have registered over 370 hours of volunteering in about 80 workshops ranging from a 3-hour jumpstart session to an extensive 50-hour after-school activity that took over 10 months. I’ve also successfully applied for three IBM Community Grants, which have helped the schools buy computers. It’s been a wonderful experience.

What is it about robotics and volunteering that has kept you so engaged?
Volunteering helps to have a good balance between work and life. It helps to see clearly what matters. Activities with children and students keep you dynamic and creative. Robotics combined with AI will change the world in the coming years, if it isn’t already! Children need these skills for their future and I’m in a good position to provide them with guidance.

Colleagues might be curious how I can find time to organize these activities. Well, I am persistent over the time, and I save time by using what already exists or improvising. I block the time slots long in advance and try to make a good use of the work flexibility IBM provides. Of course, I love doing it.

And you’ve had help.
Yes, and I am very grateful. Rainer Vorholt, an IBM retiree, helps me run the workshops in elementary schools and takes care of the communication with the schools and the press to sustain the activity. Rainer suggested that we work together on this when he retired. He also volunteers helping students with homework and coaching. I also regularly get help from IBM interns to prepare the kits and the programs for the workshops.

What lessons or practices have you learned about leading activities for children?
I’ve learned to be patient and quickly improvise. I believe there are three keys for the success of these activities with children.

First, the availability of the technology and materials in the school is essential. I pair students with a computer and a robot to set good learning conditions. The quality and reliability of the material are important to be able to serenely teach without technical issues.

Second is having the time. The IBM work time flexibility is essential to be able to provide volunteering hours during the normal school hours.

And third, the right skills. A good balance between soft and technical skills is essential to teach technology. Using, what I’ll call “IBM creative thinking and innovation” is the most important skill to find motivating activities, solve issues and answer questions.

How did your volunteering change in 2016?
We moved to the central district of Uhlenhorst, in Hamburg, very close the Campus Uhlenhorst—an educational institution for adolescents with learning disabilities who have completed their 10th and 12th year of schooling.

They had an open-door day and I offered to organize a robotics workshop adapted to the Campus under the IBM volunteer program. After an introduction to the pedagogical team in 2017, I started a one-hour weekly course with eight students to build and program robots and to assemble 2000 pieces of a digital clock. The activities around the robotics allowed the students to build according to instructions, work in three dimensions, program with blocks and be creative. And most of all to have fun!

Do you change anything to lead activities for students with disabilities?
Something that is not different—and is common to everyone and all ages—is to let the students discover and use a trendy technology, gain confidence and have fun. We’re still using the regular kits, software and projects, though I do take more time, reduce the complexity and repeat more often. Also, there is a campus coach who assists me with the students and leads the workshop if I’m not available, so we can stay on the weekly pace one-hour robotics workshops.

What are you working on now?
We are currently programming a soccer robot to take part in the World Robot Olympiad soccer competition in Hamburg in 2020. We’re also hoping to feature it with clients at an upcoming IBM Forum in September. The purpose is to have IBM customers play against AI and showcase #goodtechIBM.

What do the students and their parents think of these activities?
The children are motivated and grateful to work with future technologies and their applications. At the end of each course, the parents are thankful that IBM enables the access to new technologies for their kids and admire that they are able to participate in a showcase with such dexterity. One time just to have fun, we built and programmed "sumo” robots that had to stay in the circle. We had such a laugh! We were so loud the students in the classroom next to us came to see what was happening! Having fun can lead to some valuable experiences.

Join the conversation. Tag your tweets with #IBMVolunteers, #AllThingsSTEM and follow us @IBMVolunteers.

About these stories

Read about IBMers whose volunteer efforts are improving communities around the world.

Activity Kits

IBM’s volunteer Activity Kits include everything you need for a range of activities.