I am an enthusiast for student robotics clubs and activities to serve the project of 21st century learning; I became an enthusiast upon seeing the seriousness of purpose the High Tech High student robotics team displayed when I visited there in San Diego in December. Yesterday edutopia published a short piece celebrating the robotics movement in Hawaii, and pointed the way to this article in the Hawaiian Airlines flight magazine (admittedly not my most common source!).
In fact, robotics attracts students of all stripes. The same day I spoke with Sara, I spoke with Jon Asato, who is a student in Maui High School’s arts and communication track. He calls robotics “a good outlet to express my creativity at school.
It allows me to use critical thinking and to practice working with others.” Communication is a big part of robotics, he says; it’s a field that requires a lot of teamwork and sharing of ideas. Laughing, he adds that robotics keeps him out of trouble: “No time for escapades. I do VEX from 2 o’clock to 6 or 7:30 four or five days a week.” In this way, Jon echoes statements people are always making about robotics—first, that it teaches far more than mere technology; and second, that kids in robotics programs become involved to an almost fanatical degree.
FIRST is similar to VEX but ten times more challenging. Not only is the scale much greater—instead of small foam cubes, these bots (last year) had to handle 40-inch-diameter balls and hoist them over shoulder-high tracks—but the design and construction process is far more demanding. Students manufacture their own components, and that involves welding and powder-coating, operating mills and lathes to fabricate hubs and gears, creating circuit boards and transmissions, working with pneumatics and radio technology and, of course, learning all sorts of software applications including CAD, LabView and Autodesk. That’s not all. FIRST challenges the teams to include documentation via web sites and videography and also to do computer animation. All of these activities happen at Waialua year-round out of four large rooms.
Kelson told me, “I like to see things that I built work in the way I intended them to work. I like to see things move.” He started with Lego in preschool and now is applying to the country’s top engineering schools; without robotics it’s hard to imagine what he would have found in Hilo to move him across such a dramatic arc. “Robotics has changed my life and prepared me for the future,” he said.
At St. Gregory, we are working swiftly to fund and launch a student robotics club for both middle school and upper school students, and are going to try to asssist our neighboring elementary school in this same initiative. Look for future reports here.