An excellent article recently published in a Washington State newspaper makes the case that robotics learning is very much about learning to innovate, and learning to problem-solve.   Entitled “Education by Design: Robotics draws students to math, science, teamwork,” the case is made that robotics is

“a way to engage students in science and math in a hands-on way that could lead to careers in engineering and technology. In organizing and presenting their findings, the students also learn teamwork, innovation and communication skills, educators say. “This is about problem-solving,” said Karlicia Berry, who teaches the fifth-graders at Ponderosa Elementary School in Post Falls. “It’s test and revise, test and revise. It’s always thinking, thinking, thinking. It’s so empowering to children to build something and program it to do something, and it does it. It’s better than any video game.”

The article focuses upon the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) competitions that span the nation, offering robotics competitions for Kindergarten through 12th grade; St. Gregory will participate in FIRST events at both the middle school and high school levels for the first time this year.

The students learn to build and program robots, to write algorithms and to orally present their findings to a panel of judges. They learn to be gracious and professional to other competitors and to always compete, but to help their opponents as well. FIRST calls that “coopertition.” The benefits, teachers say, include engaging students who are not involved in other school activities, building leadership and teamwork, and connecting students with professional engineers, scientists and other businesspeople.

“The best thing I saw from it was a lot of kids … applied serious engineering to a problem. They just get engaged. They’re tuned into what they’re doing. They’re not really distracted anymore,” said Salvatore Lorenzen, who teaches robotics and technology at Post Falls High School and coaches several robotics teams. He said the students’ parents watched their children become more responsible and dedicated.

The article, at its end, cites statistics supporting the results for students participating in FIRST,  finding that they were twice as likely to major it science or engineering, and twice as likely to expect a career in science or technology as students in a comparison group.

As St. Gregory embarks, building on current strengths, to distinguish itself ever more as a leader in creating innovators for the 21st century, robotics will have an important place in achieving this goal.

I should add that I am deeply appreciative of the St. Gregory teachers, Jeff Decker, Heather Faircloth, Dennis Connor and Scott Morris, who are working so hard to launch this initiative this year for our students, and to the St. Gregory Annual Fund donors who are making this possible!

photo credit Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review