Robotics, STEM AND Girl Power

“Girl power” reigns supreme this summer as STEM education takes center-stage at FLATE’s robotics camps. The picture gets clearer as Elizabeth Heli, one of the lead instructors for the 2010 robotics camps talks about teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) concepts using a robotics platform to middle school students throughout Hillsborough County.

Heli is the lead teacher for the engineering STEM academy at Greco Middle school where she teaches technology education—a pre-engineering course—for the past six years. But there is a more “fun” side to Heli than meets the eye! She brings an exciting dimension into the classroom by incorporating her interest in electronics, technology, and video gaming which “helps strike a connection with the kids.”

Given Heli’s affinity for technical stuff, she is involved in a number of STEM-related projects at Greco that deals with civil engineering, aerospace engineering, and transportation technology. For aerospace engineering projects, she helps build rockets, parachutes, hot-air balloons, and egg-drop vehicles that simulate launching capsules to the space/moon. Under transportation technology, she teaches how to build carbon dioxide-powered race car models using Newton’s laws of motion. Another fun and interesting project she is involved in at Greco is designing and building mazes using technical drawing software.

In terms of the FLATE robotics camps, Heli will be the lead instructor for the “Girls Only” robotics camp at Hillsborough Community College (HCC) in Brandon, and the robotics camps at HCC’s SouthShore campus in July. She loves the way the challenges are designed. In that she applauds FLATE for integrating current/relevant robotics engineering technologies into the curriculum, and designing age-appropriate materials that showcase real-world applications. “Where the STEM concepts are really getting ingrained is when students have background knowledge acquisition, and then they get to apply what they have learned through hands-on exercises that require problem-solving” Heli said.

The possibilities are endless. Heli hopes the lessons learned during the camp will motivate kids to encourage teachers at their respective schools to start a robotics program, or encourage them to join FIRST Lego League clubs/competitions. “If they can have more hands-on time with robotics and/or STEM-related activities it will enhance their learning, as well as build on problem-solving skills they gained during the camp.”

Indeed, Heli is a big proponent in securing students’ interest in STEM/robotics, as well as high-tech manufacturing. She says attractive flyers are an effective way to spark students’ interest, particularly for girls. Capturing students’ interest while they’re young, using curriculum that portrays a fun or the real-world side of what they are learning, and finding innovative ways to showcase careers and educational pathways in high-tech fields is yet another way to garner interest.

Heli points to FLATE’s camps as a great platform to expose students to the world of STEM and robotics. To that effect, she is interested in using some of the resources she is learning at the camp to improve curriculum for future camps, and/or implement some of the concepts into her daily teaching experience. “It’s all about STEM and fun. This is how learning takes place, and is what matters at the end of the day” Heli said.

For more information on FLATE’s high-tech robotics camp visit www.fl-ate.org/projects/camps.html, or contact Dave Gula, FLATE’s camp manager/outreach coordinator at 813.259.6581 or gula@fl-ate.org.