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Introducing Robots to Kids

Oct 31, 2014 01:03PM ● By Jennifer Neys

8th grade students in the Linkbot RoboPlay Club at Valley View Middle School are working on the computer program designed to make the robot move.

by Jaki Jones

Getting kids engaged and working collaboratively while teaching them math and computer programming skills is happening at the new Linkbot RoboPlay Club at Valley View Middle School in Pleasant Hill.

Shauna Hawes, the computer technology teacher, and Christina Tkachuk, the math and AIMS teacher, are faculty advisors to the 35 plus, mixed-grade club members. Every Wednesday after school, groups of students can be seen at computers or huddled over their Linkbots. Linkbots are modular educational robots that can be accessorized and linked with other robots and programmed to move. Linkbots were developed at UC Davis and support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education.

Hawes was first introduced to the idea of bringing robots into a middle school classroom two years ago. “In early 2012, I presented at a STEAM (STEM + Arts) Conference and dropped in on Dr. Harry Cheng from the UC Davis CSTEM program, as he was speaking about correlating Common Core math with robotics for younger students, such as middle schoolers. That got my attention.”  A year later, she attended a two-day intensive C-STEM Robotics Academy training at UC Davis where she was trained on how to engage students on critical thinking and collaborative learning and how to integrate computing and robotics into STEM classroom teaching and afterschool programs. She also purchased two Linkbots. “I walked out of the training trying to figure out how I would get more robots and how I would implement this programming experience to support and supplement my students with their math and math confidence. What I also brought home was a very clear vision that if I had experienced math in the context I was now seeing, I would have learned the concepts and seen a purpose to learning them,” she continued.

Hawes wrote grant requests to and the Pleasant Hill Education Foundation, and with funding received, she was able to purchase 15 more Linkbots (at about $200 each) and accessories (wheels and snap connectors). “Tesoro has awarded MDUSD a grant for after-school STEM clubs, so I am in the process of ordering more materials to supplement the ones we've already purchased,” she said.

And what do the students have to say about this hands-on, high energy club?  “I get to use the Linkbots to do cool things,” said one 7th grader. “I like learning about robots overall and how they work,” said another.  “I think the coolest thing is being able to move the robots,” added another.

Several community members are also involved in the fruition and success of the club. Mike Morehead, College Park and PH Middle School parent is one of the founders and community advisors of the club. Steve Iribarne, past Valley View Middle School and CP parent currently works as a robot programmer. CP student Max Morehead is a student coach and CP student Gavin Olson stops by to help when available.  

A culminating activity will be at the 2015 C-STEM Day at UC Davis next May, when teams of students will participate in the RoboPlay Challenge Competition. Here, Valley View students will have an opportunity to showcase their real-world problem solving skills in a competitive environment.

 For more information about how you can support STEM in Pleasant Hill schools, contact [email protected]



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