STEMulating Strategies for Securing Students in STEM

Shifting the pendulum to the student side of the continuum, the question about engaging girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) still looms large. This time round we examine STEM through the lens of robotics. All things considered, does robotics alter the equation in the same manner for STEM enthusiasts and STEM converts alike, or does it remain the same?

To get the answer we head over to FLATE’s ALL Girls robotics camp, where 25 women engineers,
doctors and future aspiring STEM professionals had fun working through a given set of challenges using their NXT MINDSTORM robot. Kayla Grubben and Amya Gupta, members of the Girlbotics team say they just “love robots” and building and programming them. As the overall winners of the challenges, both Kayla and Amya “dig” science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and aspire to be future engineers. “I love math and the consistency in answers” says Amya. “I love technology as it is a window to creating and innovating” says Kayla.

Kayla and Amya are not alone in sharing their love for STEM and robotics. Lexi Kelley and Kennedy
 Warren from Team LK, both aspiring engineers who love working through the challenges at the camp, are equally enthusiastic in voicing their interest. “I love STEM” says Lexi, a fifth grader at Bushnell Elementary school in Tampa. Tying back to educators’ thoughts during the workshop on connecting curriculum to hands-on activities and showcasing practical applications of STEM, Lexi stated that she “always likes to know how things are made and how they work.” As part of the challenges campers attending the week-long all girls robotics camp reconfigured LEGO MINDSTORMS Robots and programmed them to follow specific commands. Caroline Lamoreux and Clare Mooney, fifth graders at St. Lawrence Catholic School in Tampa, were also among the group of campers who articulated the challenges as thought-provoking. “I especially liked the hands-on stuff like building the robot” said Caroline who voiced a common interest among campers about enjoying working with their hands, and building and programming robots.

Another commonality between student campers and educators was the importance asserted to team based activities. Campers participated in several team based challenges, learned design techniques, and how to operate 3D printers. Like most of her fellow campers, Mooney described working as a team as a “super important” aspect of the camp, in that, campers had to collaborate ideas and strategies to work through each challenge.

Curriculum for the week-long camp comprised of a mixture of Lego educational materials that are integrated
with STEM subjects, and are conducted in a competitive, problem-based learning environment. To get their innovative and problem solving skills animated, campers were assigned with a task to create their own product and present it to their team members. In this task, Caroline and her teammate, Clare, emerged as trailblazers as they added new components to the robot and started talking with their robot to execute any commands.

Given robotics camp focus in showcasing high-tech manufacturing and integration of robotics in everyday industrial settings, campers were taken on a tour of the Publix dairy in Lakeland, FL.  The tour helped develop better understanding and knowledge about high-tech manufacturing operations. “It was amazing to see the assembly line” said Lexi. “The machines were automated, and it was amazing to get a behind-the-scenes-look at Publix” Lexi said.

In terms of altering preconceived notions about STEM and robotics, the camp did help change some conceptions. In that, Brianna Goulbourne, a seventh grader from Orange Grove Middle Magnet School who considered mathematics as challenging, said the tour and her overall camp experience has helped  build her mathematical skills to “figure things out and work through problem solving.”

For more information on FLATE’s robotics camps email Desh Bagley, outreach manager at bagley@fl-ate.org. For information on FLATE’s outreach initiatives to middle and high school students and teachers visit www.madeinflorida,org  and www.fl-ate.org.

Click on image below to watch a news clip about FLATE's ALL Girls Camp on WTSP News Channel 10