Robotics class gets Tahoe-Truckee students geared up | SierraSun.com

Robotics class gets Tahoe-Truckee students geared up

Katja Dahl
Special to the Sun

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Rebecca Maas has taught technology in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District for 21 years. When you speak with her, it quickly becomes clear she is passionate about making her students "excited to learn."

She believes the most powerful way to achieve this is by providing fun, hands-on learning opportunities. It was this drive to find new and interesting ways to enhance learning in her classroom that compelled her to apply for a grant from the Excellence in Education Foundation.

The application was for the purchase of several LEGO Mindstorm Robotics Kits for her eighth-grade enrichment classes. These kits are essentially a robotics toolset designed to provide countless opportunities for budding inventors to design, build and program small-scale robots.

TEACHING TOOL

Maas' goal was to use this creative program as a teaching tool by providing problem-solving activities that make learning science, technology, engineering, and mathematics through real-life robotics engaging and irresistible for students (meeting the requirements of the district's STEMs Program).

Students work in teams and rotate through a six-week program that utilizes a robot educator via an online curriculum. This allows the groups to learn at their own pace as they complete roughly 40 lessons on how to make and program their robot. The exercises and projects require and naturally teach cooperation, collaboration, problem solving and creative thinking, all ideal qualities for successful young people to embrace.

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Each project starts with an explanation of the challenge, then teams design and build their robots. They learn to make it move (move arms, hit or kick a ball) and are challenged to create robots that can perform certain tasks.

There is a final challenge and after the program is completed, students must break down their creations, delete their programming and leave the kits ready for the next eager group of inventors.

"I had one team that struggled with confidence in the beginning, but with some persistence and hard work they began to figure things out. I took great joy in seeing the light bulb go on and the kids embrace the challenge," said Maas.

21st CENTURY

Ultimately, Maas has found a creative way to help students develop the 21st-century, creative-thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, and communication skills required for success in school and beyond. She believes the program has been an excellent addition to her classroom and an enormous benefit for her students.

The Lego Robotics program at Alder Creek Middle School will transition to a new teacher this year as Maas takes on her new role as the district's teacher technology specialist. She will work with all schools and students to help integrate technology into the core curriculum. She hopes to introduce successful programs like Lego Robotics to more students throughout the district.

Students at North Tahoe School are also benefiting from a robotics program. Spearheaded by Trent Kirschner, this program took off when the electronics company Parallax Inc. donated more than a dozen computers and robots. The learning was enhanced with additional robot kits and supplies funded through another grant from the Excellence in Education Foundation.

This 12-week elective class for seventh- and eighth-graders utilizes computers to teach programming and code writing to make the robots function. In addition, students learn hands-on robot building and soldering. Kids begin with an icon-based program to make the robots move and transition into more sophisticated independent code writing. They also learn to solder components such as light and touch sensors onto Herbie the robotic mouse making him chase light beams and react to touch and movement.

Kirschner's goal is to provide an overall exposure to programming and robot assembly while gaining experience in troubleshooting, problem-solving and critical thinking. Given the success of the program, the robotics educational tools are expanding into high school classes this year.

Martis Camp Home Tour

The robotics programs in North Tahoe and Truckee are just two ways the Excellence in Education's grant program benefits students in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District. Teachers apply for grants to enhance their classroom teaching. Grant money is generated via the Foundation's numerous fund-raising programs including the upcoming Excellence in Education Home Tour taking place in Martis Camp on Aug. 18, 2013, and purchase of the popular Golfing for Schools Cards, Dining for Schools Cards, and Skiing For Schools discount lift tickets. In addition, the Foundation receives individual donations through the Friends of Education Program. In total, the Foundation was able to award $210,000 in grants over the past year.

"One of Excellence in Education's goals is to strengthen the learning experience for students," explains Laura Brown, executive director of the Foundation. "Grants for classes such as the robotics programs provide hands-on learning opportunities for students and gives them tools to carry into their future of learning."

To learn how you can participate in the Foundation's efforts to provide more unique and exciting educational enhancements to the district visit http://www.exined.org or call 530-550-7984.

Katja Dahl is an Excellence in Education Board Member.