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Robotics: Engineering and science go hand in hand

February 28, 2013
From Staff Reports , Times Leader

WHEELING - Wheeling Country Day School is heading in a new direction for educational excellence with its newly implemented robotics program.

The program gives provides students the opportunity to learn independent thinking skills as well as a way to integrate their interests in the school curriculum.

"We pride ourselves on being creative and innovative in making learning as real life and as hands-on as possible, giving students opportunities to learn while they do what they love," said Alyson Taylor, a fourth-grade teacher at the Woodsdale school.

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Wheeling Country Day School students Annalese Aderholt, left, and Tori Blanton, both of Wheeling, build a robot at the robotics academy presented by Meri Cummings at Wheeling Jesuit University’s Center for Educational Technology.

"As I was researching different ideas and brainstorming what kids love over the summer, I found a program currently being used by Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts called 'FIRST LEGO League.' Dr. Meri Cummings, former West Virginia FLL Robotics Tournament director and a huge LEGO robotics enthusiast, offered a training workshop for educators at Wheeling Jesuit University's Center for Educational Technologies that I attended over the summer. Our Head of School, Liz Hofreuter-Landini, had the desire to bring LEGOs into our school, and I found a way to link and incorporate it into our curriculum."

The school implemented the robotics program after Cummings drafted a list of materials needed to get started and obtained a quote from LEGO Education. Contributions from the Muffin Jones Fund and Bill Jones and Joyce Jefferson provided funding to purchase the needed supplies.

Fifth grade students and the fourth and fifth grade teachers attended a student-tailored field trip/robotics academy delivered by Cummings in October at the Center for Educational Technology. Students have been working with robots through the winter and will soon begin preparing for robotics challenges, including next year's FIRST LEGO League Tournament.

The program is being piloted in fifth grade due to the math involved in the computer programming. Students learned about ratio calculations needed to program robots at various distances. They also experienced the engineering design process as they built robot arms, added them to the basic robot, incorporated their calculated values in robot programs, and documented the programming process with Project Design Forms. These activities fit perfectly with the Next Generation Science Standards, cross-cutting practices, and link with mathematics and English literacy standards.

"In our ongoing effort to offer relevant and engaging learning opportunities, we adopted the Lego Robotics program as part of our fifth grade math curriculum," Hofreuter-Landini said.

The fourth grade will be introduced to the program this spring. Modifying the program down to the third grade and lower school are in the works but won't be introduced until at least next year.

The program teaches core mathematical skills such as calculating circumference and ratios as well as advanced multiplication. The program also focuses on problem-solving, teamwork, communication/presentation skills, and social responsibility, which are part of Wheeling Country Day's focus on 21st Century skills.

"The long-term plan for the program is to have the fifth grade enter the FIRST LEGO League ... tournaments statewide and hopefully on a national level," Taylor said.

In the initial component of the FIRST LEGO League students use math, science, and engineering skills in the building and programming of robotics using LEGOs to do tasks on a "game board." Language arts and social studies are incorporated into the lesson. Students are presented a challenge that deals with a current social issue such as food safety and senior citizen issues. In the 2013-14 season, the challenge will focus on natural disasters and emergency readiness.

For the second component, students are required to do research on the topic and present their findings along with the solution to a team-selected problem during an interview at the state tournament. Students compete against other teams in completion of robotic tasks, their research project, and their ability to answer questions about their research, programming, robot design, and "core values."

"The proposed educational robotics activities engage youth in doing engineering and research, solving authentic problems, and communicating like real professionals, while students develop the core values needed to be valuable contributors to their community," Cummings said.



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