Thursday, October 10, 2019

Robotics competitions engage students in STEM Learning

"Robotics competitions can engage students in STEM"

"'s not just about learning a specific block code language, but rather about students gaining confidence in a new area....

Robin Corbeil is a technology and computer teacher at Litchfield Middle School in New Hampshire.

As the computer instructor for Litchfield Middle School, I’ve tried different ways of engaging my students in coding as well as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in general. Some tactics have been less successful than others.
For example, I tried, but my students lost interest after a day or two (the courses have probably changed since then). I also took on responsibility for the math club, but although we did do some competitions, it was a struggle to get students to even be associated with the club because it wasn’t considered "cool." We even tried turning it into a STEM club, but we just couldn’t increase membership.

Two years ago, I began managing student teams for robotics competitions. That engaged some students, but it took a lot of time, effort, energy, knowledge and direction. However, in 2018, our school took part in an online coding and robotics tournament, Cyber Robotics Coding Competition (CRCC). That event took less of my time, was easier to manage, and our school won second place in the state of New Hampshire. And I was able to pull it off with little more than two years’ experience in computer science under my belt.

One of the best things about CRCC is that it can easily accommodate teachers with no experience at all. Participants had to program virtual 3D robots to perform complex tasks and missions, but it didn’t require a ton of my time to get set up on the competition’s CoderZ Cyber Robotics Learning Environment. Also, it wasn’t something I had to take students through step-by-step. The missions were very intuitive, so they could work independently. They really didn’t rely on me for answers, direction or motivation.

The CRCC consisted of four components, the first of which was a professional development webinar for teachers and mentors. The second was a boot camp in which students and educators learned about coding and robotics in a virtual, highly scaffolded “sandbox.” After that, students participated in the qualifiers, competing individually to earn points for their schools. In the finals, which took place nearby at the University of New Hampshire, teams of students represented our school in an in-person event that was a lot of fun.

I incorporated CRCC into my 7th-grade computer class by letting students work on the competition’s missions for the first 15-20 minutes. The official objective was for every student to complete just the first 10 bootcamp missions, but quite a few completed the entire bootcamp and moved on to the more complex qualifier missions. It was a nice destresser for them because it wasn’t assessment based, and it wasn’t something they had to do with a partner...."

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