Alex Sieberer is quite literally a whiz kid.
The 12-year-old Oak Park sixth grader has programmed the robots for a team at the school’s Robotics Showcase.
“With robotics, I’m in sixth grade, and almost ready to move to middle school, and my goal is to teach others to carry on and do it,” he said. “I want to make sure people know how to do it next year.”
Oak Park hosts its own Robotics Showcase with two teams every Wednesday and Thursday after school. It follows missions and playing fields of the First LEGO League.
“One of the biggest accomplishments in my life is learning how to program a computer,” he said. “I’ve made that goal.”
When other classmates are reading adventure novels or magazines at bedtime, Alex is perusing through reference books on C++ and C# programming language.
“You have kids that want to go watch movies or play video games,” said his mother, Amy. “He’s creating the video games.”
In just four months, he has progressed through the advanced youth foil division of his fencing program at Circle D’Escrime School of Fencing in Perkasie. He will soon move on to the adult class.
“I love swordfighting,” he said, drawing inspiration from “The Princess Bride” and the “Star Wars” movies (Alex thinks the first three are the best; call it a generational gap).
“I like fencing because I like to duel with people,” he said.
Alex's intellect and determination is seen and admired by his peers and teachers.
"Alex is the type of student who helps push everyone's brain to a new level," said Baker, sixth grade Social Studies teacher. "Even as a teacher, I find it challenging to always be one step ahead of Alex. If I am not one step ahead, I find myself including Alex in my teaching."
He said he would ask Alex, "So how do youfeel about comparing the Phoenicians to the Chinese during the Han Dynasty?" and Alex would respond with a favorite saying, "If you can't beat them, join them."
Alex’s genius showed its face at 18 months.
“He was using prepositions in sentences,” said Amy, a portrait artist. “He was always two going on 42.”
When he was in the third grade, he decided to publish a Web site on his favorite prehistoric animal.
“He likes mammoths, so he decided to create a Web site on mammoths,” said Amy.
Alex is in the gifted program at Oak Park. He is also diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a condition on the Autism Spectrum Disorder.
“I know I have Asperger’s syndrome. That may have something to do with (my intellect),” he said. “It’s rerouting where things go in my brain.”
Baker said Alex enhances class with his comments because they are often high-level thoughts.
"Having Alex in my class is actually quite refreshing," he said. "His energy and passion for learning are a breath of fresh air."
After Baker commented on his student, Alex brought something to his attention: He found an error in their Social Studies textbook.
"In our light energy curriculum, the book mentions how we got 'Sunday.' In the book, it says Sol Invictus was the Romans' Sun god. But he was the god of warriors, soldiers and victory," Alex said.
He has taken his passion and influenced it on other students. He is at present teaching a fifth grade boy to program a robot.
“To me, it comes like instinct,” Alex said. “I understand how (robotics) is all laid out in order for it to work.”
Alex writes code in a programming language, like C++, and runs it through a compiler. The compiler then turns the code into software. The software is then used to run the robots in the Showcase.
The Robotics Showcase at Oak Park uses the NXT-G programming software and graphical language with the LEGO Mindstorms platform.
Alex said an Integrated Development Environment helps write the code and run the program from a Windows shell.
“It’s limitless,” he said.
Alex’s knowledge is also limitless. His ambitions are to one day work for IBM or Apple.
His key to awesomeness, he said, is technology.
“If it weren’t for computers, there’s no way I could do this,” he said. “If there weren’t old IBMs, if Bill Gates wasn’t alive, I could not have done any of this. Without it, I’d just be the class nerd.”
His teacher and Robotics Showcase advisor, Donna Grabner, who nominated Alex for our feature, sees nothing but a golden future for Alex.
"Statistically, kids who do robotics become the scientists and mathematicians in the future," she said.
If you know of a Whiz Kid to feature, email Tony Di Domizio at firstname.lastname@example.org.