Robots Transport Students to a World Beyond The Classroom

Students across the nation, be it at the secondary, or post-secondary level, are confronted with career
decisions and choices that are sometimes difficult to make, or even fathom. Regardless of the direction they venture into, exposing students to opportunities that lie outside the parameters of their immediate vicinity is an important aspect in helping them expand the range of education and career possibilities. “It is important for educators to make students aware of the world beyond the classroom and connect whatever they learn to the outside world” said Juanita Bingham, science teacher for the Polk County Pace Program. Bingham was one of the teachers who accompanied 13 girls from the Pace Center for Girls, Inc. for Polk County in Florida to attend a robotics workshop hosted by FLATE.  This was one of two hands-on robotics and manufacturing career workshops for middle and high school girls last month.

One workshop hosted high school girls for the PACE Center for Girls, Inc. from both  Hillsborough and Polk counties.  The second workshop had 19 Promise Scholars, all girls, from Van Buren Middle School in Tampa. The workshops are part of FLATE’s outreach initiative to reach out to middle and high school students, especially girls, and kindle their interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) based educational and career pathways using a robotics platform.

The robotics workshops served as an educationally enriching experience for both students as well as
teachers from both the PACE and PROMISE program. “It is nice to expose students to the college campus” said Jesilynn Drake, transitions counselor for PACE center for Girls Inc. in Lakeland, FL. Drake pointed the workshop and the curriculum was relevant and gender responsive to girls which further helped students think outside the box and connect/apply what they saw in the Made in Florida video with the outside world. During the workshop students learned how to reconfigure Lego® Mindstorms® robots and program them to follow specific commands, be part of robotic team challenges and witnessed the operation of a 3D printer. “I had seen robots only on TV; today I learned how to program one” said Marissa PACE student from Hillsborough County. “This has got me thinking about robotics” said Karla a student from Polk County PACE program who was earlier considering becoming a tattoo artist. In addition to the challenges the students also learned about lucrative STEM related careers and jobs that are available to them in Florida. “What they saw today opened their minds to a new dimension in what they can do in the future and the jobs they can pursue” said Tiffany Thomas, PACE program specialist for Hillsborough County.

Following the workshops, approximately 54% of PACE students and 84.2% of PROMISE scholars agreed
that the engineering technology experience at the workshop would help them with STEM based courses in school. “Robots are only as smart as the person who made them” stated one of the Promise scholars in the post visit survey. Another added she “learned a lot about what the technology and computer science related courses offered at Hillsborough Community College.” Approximately 85% of PACE students and 89.5% of PROMISE scholars said they would recommend the engineering technology experience to other students. “I had a great time and it would really inspire others too” said one of the PROMISE scholar from Van Buren Middle School in Tampa.

Indeed, “the general consensus among our students is an ‘ah-ha!’ moment whereby students gained a deeper perspective of the things they have yet to explore, or are worth exploring” said Bingham who brought her students for the FLATE robotics workshop for a second time.  Tiffany Thomas, PACE program specialist for Hillsborough agrees. She hopes to bring a new batch of students every semester. “It gets the students talking and thinking about their careers and the options available to them in the future” Thomas said.

For more information on FLATE’s robotics program visit www.madeinflorida.org and www.fl-ate.org. For information on the upcoming summer robotics camps and/or enrollment into the camps contact Desh Bagley, outreach manager and robotics camp director for FLATE at bagley@fl-ate.org