Air Force partners with Utah State University using VEX Robotics and intelitek curriculum to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education
A new initiative for bringing robotics into the classroom to teach STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) topics is gaining momentum in Utah. A joint effort between Utah State University (USU), the Hill Air Force Base, and intelitek, a developer of training programs for STEM education, has produced exponential results In demonstrating the value of robotics as an educational vehicle to promote STEM education.
A three day Robotics Teacher Workshop at Utah State University (USU), held prior to the start of the 2011 school year, has had a ripple effect in getting teachers and administrators to experience the instructional value of robotics, with the Vex robotics system and intelitek curriculum as the vehicles of choice.
Gary Stewardson, Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering and Technology Education at USU, is organizing more events in a partnership with Hill Air Force base. Hill AFB provides the funding for the materials through the National Defense Education Program (NDEP), a program designed to foster a new generation of scientists, mathematicians, engineers and technologists.
Hill Air force Base representatives Judith Maughan, Educations Programs Officer, and Frances Bradshaw, STEM Outreach Coordinator, also attended the summer event. Stewardson explains the success of the workshop format: Judith Maughan and Frances Bradshaw with Hill Air force Base and the NDEP share a similar goal with me and the Department of Engineering and Technology Education (ETE) at Utah State University (USU). We are interested in getting STEM activities in the curriculum of Utah schools. Judith Maughan purchased robot kits for ten schools, Intelitek supplied the instructor and curriculum, and I managed and orchestrated the workshop through Utah State University.
VEX ROBOTICS IS THE CARROT FOR TEACHING STEM
The ten schools received intelitek’s educational robotics package including intelitek’s easyC programming software, intelitek’s Robotics Engineering Curriculum (REC) and VEX robotics kits. Stewardson is a strong believer in the effectiveness of the robots in education. Having hosted two regional Vex competitions and participated in several VEX robotics world competitions, he has seen the positive educational results.
It becomes the carrot to teach important STEM concepts, Stewardson says. The design of the competition is a hybrid between an engineering challenge and sporting event. The sporting event environment adds excitement. The technical knowledge and skills required to design and build a competitive robot provides the curriculum content, both hard and soft skills, for example programming and teaming. The competition also creates a cooperative learning environment. Students share ideas and teams help each other. It is not just about winning.
Stewardson’s goal is to bring the dynamic educational experience into the classroom, and feels he has found the vehicle to do so in Vex and REC:
“VEX robotics is able to provide students with engaging, inspiring, and motivating activities with an affordable platform”, he says. “The REC curriculum enables VEX robotics to move from an afterschool club environment to an in-school classroom curriculum and become pre-engineering pathway. The REC curriculum would enable us to reach that many more middle and high school students.”
One of the unique aspect of these robotics workshops is the inclusion of both teacher and student participation. Each teacher is accompanied by two of their students. Having the students present gives teachers the opportunity to see firsthand how students responded to working hands-on with robots.
“The synergy of a team, teacher and students, helps in their success,” Stewardson observes.
Throughout the three-day camp, students work through self-paced online curriculum running on intelitek’s LearnMate e-learning system. Students learn to build and program robots with the effective combination of online curriculum and hands on activities. The complete course is delivered to the student workstations via the internet and a local wireless network.
Rob Clarke, regional Sales Manager with intelitek, helps direct the workshops. “The students all work through Robotics Engineering Curriculum as prescribed” “ no jumping around or skipping pages,” he says. “They functioned as students would in an REC Engineering Class and followed the REC 1 curriculum and the Intro to Competitive Robotics, in sequence.”
The ability to get their hands on the hardware and start building robots quickly enhances the learning process for students. “I really liked the hands-on projects in LearnMate. I don’t like just reading about subjects. Being able to do stuff and start building right away is great,” said one student.
“This approach is fantastic,” Clarke says. “The teachers have the opportunity to have their students work directly in LearnMate with the REC Curriculum. The students are building amazing robots and programming very well. Teachers are amazed and very excited at the students’ response.”
At the end of the three-day camp, students put their robot designs to the test in challenges that test their science and math skills. As an example, students are given a few chances to successfully program their robots to drive autonomously for three feet. Then, using only math skills, they determine what programming adjustments would be needed to change the distance to five feet. They are given only one chance to test their solution.
One teacher in attendance said “This workshop is fantastic. Sometimes at the end of a training workshop, I wonder how I will be able to implement it in the classroom. But watching these students working on their own, I can see it “ this will work in my classroom.”
The buzz generated by the workshops is tangible. For many, this is their first exposure to VEX Robotics and the possibilities for the future are exciting, whether as enhanced classroom programs or through extracurricular robotic competitions.
“I have received several emails thanking me for this wonderful experience and opportunity. This is not typical of most workshops, even those I would judge as very successful” says Stewardson. “This is an opportunity to reach more schools and impact more students.”
Stewardson and Bradshaw are already seeing good results. Four out of seven school districts that attended the summer workshop have implemented intelitek’s Robotics Engineering Curriculum programs, featuring Vex robotics hardware, for the current school year. That means more robots in more schools, and more students exposed to the excitement of robotics competitions!
TWO WORKSHOPS, SUMMER 2012
With such great results, no wonder USU and Hill AFB are planning on two workshops for the summer of 2012, doubling last summer’s schedule! These will feature the same format with student and teacher participation. In addition, the growth even extends beyond robotics. USU is currently setting itself up as a Training Center for Technology Teachers, using LearnMate for web delivered training. This training will expand beyond robotics to cover other technology areas such as sustainable/green energy, teacher training and professional development, and hybrid curriculum development.
All these results have been produced by getting robots into the hands of educators and students in the classroom! What an excellent demonstration of the value of robotics in education!
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Utah State University (USU)
VEX Robotics Design System
www.vexrobotics.com, (903) 453-0800