Saturday, July 13, 2019

STEM gym offers local robotics teams space to practice

From Williamburg Yorktown Daily

"Peninsula STEM gym offers local robotics teams space to practice

The Peninsula STEM Gym opened last fall in Newport News (WYDaily/ Courtesy of the Intentional Innovation Foundation)
The Peninsula STEM Gym opened last fall in Newport News.
(WYDaily/ Courtesy of the Intentional Innovation Foundation)
NEWPORT NEWS — During the school year, hundreds of students practice their passions in after-school clubs such as art, sports and STEM programs.

But where do some of these teams like robotics, meet to practice for the upcoming season?
The Peninsula STEM Gym, of course.

The 2,500-square-foot practice area is a warehouse behind Burl & Knotted, off Jefferson Avenue across from Deer Park.

Nate Laverdure, president of the Intentional Innovation Foundation and head coach of the Menchville High School’s robotics team, founded the gym last fall with a $4,000 grant from the Community Knights.

“We had to step up and do it ourselves,” Laverdure said in regards to creating a year-round space for his team and other robotics teams to practice.

Thanks to a couple of sponsors, like NASA, the team has roughly $11,000 to run the facility per year.
“The reason we have the STEM Gym is to build the area the size of a basketball court,” he said.
Laverdure plans to add a scrimmage area, Lego robotics, underwater robotics and even drone racing.
Laverdure is an engineer at Jefferson Lab.

“We get to partner up students with professional –– real mentors,” he said. “I do this program because I get to replicate this experience with my students.”

“I get to do as much engineering problem solving as I do in my day jobs as a mechanical engineer,” he added.

So why not practice in the team’s respective schools?

Laverdure said generally the schools are not open during the summer months.
“Our school, for example, does some maintenance over the summer,” he said, adding there have been instances where if a team were to use the school to practice, it would cost money for janitorial staff and other expenses.
The school district said otherwise.
Tami Byron, STEM supervisor at NNPS, said she is not aware of the school charging any of the robotics teams to use the school facilities.

“These are our teams, because it is their home school, oh definitely, they would not be charged a fee,” she said.

Bryon added she is not sure if teams would have to pay a fee to use the school after-hours and is unaware of teams not having any space.

When asked why the school did not provide a STEM for the robotics team, she replied “quite frankly, we just don’t have the space,” adding most teams practice at their respective schools but other teams, like Triple Helix, “are different robotics teams and require more space.”

While the school does give the robotics team access to operate out of a workshop at Menchville, it is not really equipped for the large-scale robotics the team does.

“Before they even started –– we were trying to think of anything,” Bryon said. “We didn’t have a capacity at our current existing schools.”

Bryon noted the school district currently has 11 robotics teams now and is projected to have 15 teams this year.

“Our robotics team is growing ten-fold especially over the last year.”

Read the full article at its source: STEM gym offers local robotics teams space to practice

Friday, July 12, 2019

Robots Bring Technology to Life in the Classroom

From EdTech K-12

Sphero, LittleBits and Other Robots Bring Technology to Life

Hands-on activities teach coding, engineering and other STEM essentials at classrooms throughout the country.
Josh Stumpenhorst got hooked on robotics three years ago when his son showed him the Sphero BB-8, a baseball-sized, self-propelled robot based on the Star Wars droid. Now Stumpenhorst, director of the learning commons at Lincoln Junior High in Naperville, Ill., is a certified Sphero Hero.

Sphero, a programmable robot, can be found in more than 20,000 schools around the globe, including the math and science classrooms at Stumpenhorst’s school, about an hour west of Chicago.
He bought the school’s first three or four Spheros out of his own pocket. Now the school has about 20 models, along with apps students can use on their tablets or Chromebooks to learn the basics of programming.

Sixth-graders get acquainted with the Sphero at the library during lunch or after school. By eighth grade, they’re incorporating the device into classroom science and math experiments, such as learning how to plot linear equations.

“The kids can code Sphero to move up a ramp for a certain amount of time at a certain speed,” Stumpenhorst says. “The Sphero Edu app will pump out an actual linear equation of the bot’s movements. Then we’ll challenge the kids by physically drawing a slope and have them code the robot to mimic that movement. That’s pretty difficult, but some of our honors kids are able to do it.”
The beauty of Sphero is its simplicity, he says.

“Literally, all you need is a tablet or Chromebook, then just plug it in and charge it,” he says. “There’s nothing that our IT department had to do. You don’t need to buy or build anything. It comes out of the box, you turn on the app, and you’re ready to code. And the app has so many tutorials and instruction pieces that even if I knew nothing about it, I could give it to kids and they’d be running with it in no time.”

Hands-On Work with Robots Teaches Progressive Coding Skill

Though robotics is massively popular as an after-school program, it’s only now starting to be integrated into regular classroom curricula, says Mark Gura, former director of the Office of Instructional Technology for the New York City Board of Education and author of Getting Started with LEGO Robotics: A Guide for K–12 Educators.

That’s a good thing, because robotics instruction can fill a gap many schools have in their STEM and STEAM initiatives, he adds.

“When I speak to principals, I sometimes get the impression that they think if they have science, technology, art and math classes, they have a STEAM program,” says Gura. “The idea is to integrate these subjects, which happens through engineering. But engineering’s been given short shrift because it’s difficult to teach. Student robotics is the perfect instructional approach to get at the engineering part.” These efforts can’t start too early.

At Nathaniel Morton Elementary in Plymouth, Mass., for example, robotics education begins when kids start their schooling, says Technology Integration Specialist Carmella Hughes.

530,000 - The number of students who compete annually in FIRST competitions

Source: FIRST, “How Robotics Competitions Close the STEM Skills Gap and Build a Diverse Workforce,” July 2018

For her kindergarten students, there’s Bee-Bot, a bee-shaped toy with directional arrows that kids use to control its motion. First graders get to explore the KinderLab Robotics KIBO robot kit, second graders use LEGO WeDo construction sets, and in third grade, students learn Wonder Workshop’s Dash and Dot.

For grades four and five, it’s littleBits, a kit with modular electronics pieces that snap together to form different machines, which can be programmed to follow instructions.
“By the time they reach fifth grade, they should be ready to start experimenting with more sophisticated programming languages,” says Hughes. “The goal is to get them to understand how the technology can solve real-world problems.”

Hughes, who initially funded the program with a grant from Massachusetts Computer Using Educators (MassCUE) in 2016, has gradually added enough devices so that no more than three kids have to share one at any time.

“Hands-on experience is very important,” she says. “Everyone needs to be heard and to participate. And having students work in groups of two or three encourages collaboration, a critical skill in preparing for today’s workforce.”

Robots Give New Ways to Teach Persistence, Problem-Solving

At Hoboken Charter School, a K–12 program in northern New Jersey, students can choose from a range of educational robotic kits, including Dash and Dot, LEGO Mindstorms and littleBits.
“In middle school, we primarily use littleBits to teach engineering,” says Chris Kunkel, a math teacher and STEM coordinator. “They’re great for prototyping. We give the kids design challenges they have to complete using littleBits and other materials. We also use littleBits Code Kit, which is like a programmable mini microcomputer.”

Kunkel also coaches the school’s robotics team, Roboken, which was recently a division finalist at a state robotics contest.

The school participates in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Tech Challenge, a global competition for which middle and high school students build robots and program them to compete head to head. (Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey and Texas all recognize robotics as an official extracurricular high school sport, according to FIRST.)
As with many schools, the biggest challenge at Hoboken Charter School is getting enough robots for all the students who want one.

“We don’t have an infinite number of robot kits,” says Kunkel. “Figuring out ways that every kid can be hands-on touching a robot is hard when you have five or six robots and 20-something kids in the class. You want to make sure every kid is getting a quality experience while reaching as many of them as possible.”

That investment can pay huge dividends. Aside from being an exciting introduction to science and technology, working with robots can reach students who might otherwise struggle in traditional classroom settings, says Kunkel.

“As a math teacher, I often see students who have a bit of a closed mindset,” he says. “If they don’t immediately get a problem, they throw up their hands and say, ‘This is too hard for me.’ But when they’re doing the engineering stuff, you almost never see that. They try, and try again, and try a third time until they get the robot to do whatever it is they want it to do.”

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Code Mat for Classroom Robotics Activities

I found this in my In Box recently... I think that robotics providers offering easy to use instructional environments for student robots is a great simple, economic extension of the robotics materials... a smart way to add structure and foster learning to the robotics experience! The mat form seems to be something that a number of providers are offering, currently.

Subject: The Sphero Code Mat is ready for class!

Sphero Logo
The Sphero Code Mat is a versatile, two-sided activity mat you can use to practice your block-based coding skills. One side of the mat is a golf course, the other side is a city -- use either side to explore with your Sphero robots, learn to code, and play games.

Ready to floor your students?
Make the Sphero Code Mat part of your STEAM curriculum today.
One side of the mat is a golf course, the other side is a city -- students can use either Side to explore, create, and learn. The possibilities are endless but to get you started, each mat comes with pre-planned ready-to-go STEAM activities so you can roll it out and get rolling.
Sphero Logo