A Student to Student Approach: Sharing a Passion for Robotics
By Lindsay Fabricant and Daniel Flyer
With advances in technology, the field of robotics is growing exponentially, creating many career opportunities. A robot is defined as “a system that can be reprogrammed to perform a variety of tasks” (Chen et al., 2017, p. 366). Trends suggest that there will be as many as 20 million robots worldwide by 2030 (Lambert, 2019). However, many students do not have access to robotics programs where they can learn to work with this new technology. For career counselors who want to support students but lack information or resources, experienced students with knowledge of robotics can help.
Children and Teens: Robotics Opportunities
Schools, libraries, museums, and community outreach programs are increasingly adding robotics programs and activities to introduce students to this field. Robotics competition programs include VRC (VEX Robotics Competition), FIRST Robotics (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), and BEST Robotics (Boosting Engineering Science & Technology). In addition, efforts are being made to help students learn science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills that contribute to their success in robotics. For example, Project Lead the Way (PLTW) is a curriculum offering engineering courses, Khan Academy has online science tutorials, CodeHS and code.org both offer online coding curriculum, and AP Computer Science courses help students learn computer science theory and programming.
Learning about robotics not only introduces students to this expanding field, but participation in robotics has been shown to deepen students’ commitment to STEM. An evaluation showed that participation in VEX Robotics Competition (VRC) resulted in greater interest in STEM courses and careers (Hendricks, Alemdar, & Tamra, 2012). Research also showed that involvement in an after-school robotics challenge by a diverse student population led to an increase in positive attitudes toward STEM as well as benefits for student mentors (Karp & Maloney, 2013). Furthermore, another study found that as students spent more time participating in robotics, their self-efficacy in STEM increased (Stewardson, Robinson, Furse, & Pate, 2019). Therefore, STEM exposure for students while they are still young becomes even more necessary.
Involvement in STEM through out-of-school programs plays an important role in building STEM skills (National Research Council, 2015). In addition, STEM skills are highly sought after in today’s economy. In 2019, graduates with STEM majors, including engineering, computer science, and math and sciences degrees, once again earned the highest salaries, according to the National Association for Colleges and Employers (NACE Staff, 2020). For these reasons and more, creating a variety of STEM opportunities is a valuable investment of time and effort.
Overview of the Pilot Program
Highly motivated to share his passion for robotics with others, one of the authors of this article, Daniel Flyer, learned that a nearby school district did not offer the robotics and engineering classes and activities that he participated in his district. In response, he created an innovative pilot robotics program to add to the existing after-school services offered by the Women’s Opportunity Rehabilitation Center (WORC). Based in Hempstead, NY, WORC is a community correction program that offers alternative-to-incarceration programs for female offenders in Nassau County, New York. WORC’s After School Tutorial Program for the children of the women in the programs, and underserved youth in the community, offers tutoring for grades 1-12 students. After successfully launching and running the program for two years, Daniel is now joined in the third year by the other author of this paper, Lindsay Fabricant. Together, they work closely with program administrators who support their efforts.
The main objective of the WORC robotics extension is to teach a group of ambitious minds the basics of engineering via the construction and coding of a VEX IQ robot. Many do not have access to robotics or engineering in school, and the purpose of the program is to teach skills while generating interest.
Week by week, the students in the program are presented with new topics ranging from gear ratios on the robotics side to loops and logical expressions on the programming side. During the first session, students are introduced to the world of robotics via a series of videos demonstrating the practical applications of robotics. Subsequent sessions focus on the construction of the robot, typically spanning three to four weeks. The next three to four meetings are spent introducing the fundamentals of programming using Graphical RobotC. The final session is a showcase for parents and community leaders illustrating the achievements of the students.
Practical Tips for Career Counselors to Engage Students to Share their Passion
Career counselors who have limited knowledge of robotics may find student-run programs such as the WORC robotics extension a welcome resource. This program specifically utilizes a student-to-student engagement approach. Students who have developed a passion for robotics are great resources for sharing ideas and helping others learn these skills. For career practitioners interested in adopting this approach, it may be possible to engage the help of more experienced students in a variety of extracurricular activities.
While participating in robotics competitions is one approach to learning robotics, there are also many other opportunities that may require less time and fewer resources. Experienced students can help with all of these and may have additional ideas to share. Suggestions include:
- Holding a Day of Code in school
- Advocating for clubs and/or a curriculum to teach STEM skills, such as coding or engineering
- Serving as mentors in after-school STEM activities
- Offering online programs such as Scratch, EarSketch, and ScratchJr. for younger students
- Permitting coding apps on school iPad (if one is provided)
Here are some ideas to help interested students become involved:
- Providing opportunities for students to prepare and deliver an interactive presentation or lesson for younger students using a robot and/or videos of robotics
- Inviting students from a local middle school or high school student robotics team to demonstrate their work
- Allowing more experienced students to partner with less experienced students as they visit websites or use robotics equipment
- Offering community service hours for students who participate by helping others.
Bridging the Gap
With technology developing rapidly, there is a need to explore new ways to help students build technical skills in emerging fields, such as robotics. Students participating in robotics activities and related STEM courses can act as a bridge between career counselors and the communities they serve. This approach reduces the need for career counselors to have extensive robotics knowledge, while providing opportunities for interested students to share their knowledge and passion of robotics with others.
Chen, A., Yin, R., Cao, L., Yuan, C., Ding, H. K., & Zhang, W. J. (2017). Soft robotics: Definition and research issues. 2017 24th International Conference on Mechatronics and Machine Vision in Practice (M2VIP), Auckland: 366-370.
Hendricks, C. C., Alemdar, M., & Tamra, W. O. (2012). The impact of participation in VEX robotics competition on middle and high school students’ interest in pursuing STEM studies and STEM-related careers. Paper presented at 2012 Annual Conference & Exposition. Atlanta: American Society for Engineering Education-ASEE.
Karp, T. & Maloney, P. (2013). Exciting Young Students in Grades K-8 about STEM through an Afterschool Robotics Challenge. American Journal of Engineering Education, 4(1), 39-54. https://doi.org/10.19030/ajee.v4i1.7857
Lambert, J. (2019). How robots change the world. Economic Outlook. 43(3), 5-8. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-0319.12431
NACE Staff. (2020, January 13). Starting salary projections for top-earning degrees level. NACE. Retrieved, February 22, 2020, from https://www.naceweb.org/job-market/compensation/starting-salary-projections-for-top-earning-degrees-level/
National Research Council. (2015). Identifying and supporting productive STEM programs in out‐of‐school settings. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/21740
Stewardson, G. A., Robinson, T. P., Furse, J. S., & Pate, M. L. (2019). Investigating the relationship between VEX robotics and student self-efficacy: An initial look. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 29. 877-896. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10798-018-9461-4/s10798-018-9461-4
Visit the following links to learn more about the programs and resources mentioned in this article:
VEX Robotics Competition: vexrobotics.com
FIRST Robotics: firstinspires.org
BEST Robotics: bestrobotics.org
Project Lead the Way (PLTW): pltw.org
Khan Academy: khanacademy.org/science
Scratch Jr.: https://www.scratchjr.org
Lindsay Fabricant is a sophomore at Roslyn High School, where she participates in science research and is a member of the Roslyn robotics team and math team. In addition to her volunteer work with the WORC after-school program, she serves as a mentor to the Buckley Country Day School robotics team in Roslyn, NY. She hopes to inspire other girls to explore their interests in the sciences. Lindsay can be reached at email@example.com
Daniel Flyer is a senior at Roslyn High School, and will be the valedictorian of the graduating class of 2020. He is a founder and captain of the Roslyn robotics team, as well as captain of Science Olympiad, President of Math Team and Quiz Bowl, a member of Code Club, and Chief Captain of the high school’s marching band. During the summer of 2019, he conducted research using robotics to perform prostate biopsies under Dr. Junichi Tokuda, an Assistant Professor of Radiology at Harvard University. Daniel plans to major in Electrical Engineering, but is currently undecided as to which college he will attend. He can be reached at Danieliflyer@gmail.com
The authors would like to thank everyone at WORC, especially Diane Gaines, Executive Director, and S. Yvette Lowe, Program Coordinator, for making our volunteer work possible. We would like to thank Karen Flyer, former Executive Director of Children’s Hope India, which funds the WORC After School Tutorial Program, for connecting us with WORC, as well Francine Fabricant, a career counselor and educator, for encouraging us to share our experience with the career development community. We also want to acknowledge the support of our teachers at Roslyn High School and Buckley Country Day School. Finally, we want to thank Career Convergence.