Ralph Moody teachers Sara Finney and Corey Meurer-Lynn assist fifth- grade students with building and programming their robots. Photo courtesy of Littleton Public Schools
BY BILL YOUMANS
You know you’ve had fun when you hear “Put your parts and brains back in your buckets please, we need to clean up!”
That was teacher Sara Finney’s funny request to her fifth-graders as they wrapped up another gathering of the Robotics Club at Ralph Moody Elementary School in Littleton. The “parts and brains” were actually collections of wires, wheels, motors and tiny computers that the kids were using to build small robots as part of the afterschool program, now in its fifth week.
The Robotics Club is a pilot program at Ralph Moody and introduces the students to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education. Working in small groups, the kids are using the VEX IQ system to build snap-together robots designed specifically to introduce the club members to robot design and programming.
With each meeting, the goal is to add another layer of function to the robots, progressing from simple build tasks to eventually going wireless for specific design challenges, such as simulating a robot-delivery system.
Club member Owen Ervin was holding his gray robot contraption and said, “The first time I plugged in the controller, I didn’t expect it to work—but it did. When the wheels started spinning I thought, ‘this is really cool!’”
As part of Project Lead the Way, the club runs for nine weeks (Mondays 3:45-5 p.m.) and helps kids discover new ways to design, think and problem-solve through the robotics program curriculum. By intentionally providing an engaging hands-on environment, students can develop high-demand knowledge and skills. Teachers are also provided with training and support to help engage their students in real-world learning.
“I feel very lucky to be a part of PLTW and a sponsor of our Robotics Club,” Sara Finney said. “I think it’s important to expose our students to STEM opportunities in order to show them the possibilities available to them in STEM-related fields. It’s great to see them working through the design process, problem solving and collaborating to design and build their robots. The excitement in our room is infectious and so much fun to be a part of.”
Making the Robotics Club a reality took some outside assistance, with a bit more still needed to break even on costs.
“We received a grant this year from Groove Automotive for $3,500 and a $1,500 donation from Waste Connections of Colorado and Sedalia Landfill,” said Allyson Mallory, principal at Ralph Moody “That support provided the STEM education through Project Lead the Way’s fifth-grade Robotic curriculum. The education landscape is changing. Anything we can do to open access to innovative learning for our students is essential to making a difference in the lives of our kiddos. The Robotics Club is available at no cost to students, and we are offering it in two sections so all the fifth-graders will have a chance to participate.”
With the whirring of tiny motors, robot LEDs blinking red and green and club members running around the room checking for the best wireless reception for their controllers, the excitement level in the room buzzes with constant chatter and exclamations. Some kids are focused on iPads for directions and design tips, while others are laughing about a wheel that is going in the opposite direction of its programming.
“This is the fun club, maybe better than intramurals and other stuff,” Ashley Schulz said. “You get to see and do things that you would never imagine getting to do in fifth grade. I thought you only worked on robots in high school. But we get to build it, control it and understand how it functions now.”
Shelby Kramp tells her friends they need to be in the club next semester, especially if they like computers.
“I can see this helping with jobs when we grow up,” Shelby said. “You have these same kind of controllers in cars, programming the motors, stuff like that. I want to be an engineer and this is what they do.”
Marveling at the enthusiasm surrounding the club, co-sponsor and Ralph Moody teacher Corey Meurer-Lynn recognizes why the kids love the club so much.
“Technology is like food, water and vitamins to these kids. It’s so essential to their growth process,” she said. “So when students get their hands on these robotics kits and have the opportunity to explore inputs, outputs, design, construction and the programming of a machine, the lights go on in their eyes as they gain understanding of how things work underneath it all. I see so much excitement and engagement as kids discover the power and creativity they have to make something new.”
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