Innovation in Action

Guest Post by John Bimmerle.

Robotics competitions provide innovative opportunities to capture student’s curiosity.  Students work individually and in teams to solve challenges that tap into Science, Math, Computer Science, and other subject area knowledge and skills.  There are various contests that are held throughout the year across the state requiring different levels of skills.

One example of these contests is the TCEA Mindstorms Robotics Contest that uses Lego based robots.  There are two different challenges that engage students, the arena challenge and student inventions.  Each challenge requires students to tap into content skills as well as soft skills or social skills.

Article II.f – New learning standards should reflect realities of the new digital era, where students are not just consumers of knowledge but creators of knowledge.

The Inventions contest challenges students to create a solution to a real world problem of their choice.  They are required to research, build and program a robot, create marketing materials, and present their product to a group of judges.  Working in teams of 2 to 4 students, the skills they learn go well beyond the classroom.  Debbie Boyer, Canyon ISD’s Director of Instructional Technology recognizes direct benefits of student participation.  She says, “Robotics provides students with authentic learning opportunities.  They learn to be problem solvers, communicators, collaborators, and teammates.  They also learn to think critically and creatively to accomplish the challenge.  Robotics rolls all these wonderful skills together in an engaging learning experience.”

The Inventions contest allows students to take what they are learning in other classes and apply it to a real world problem.  In many traditional settings this is where the learning would stop.  Robotics offers the students the chance to take that knowledge and apply it to their own creations.  As Article II.e addresses, there is a need to tap into curiosity and imagination in the traditional core areas.  The student inventions allow schools to provide for these transformative opportunities for their students.

Article V.b The teacher’s most important role is to be a designer of engaging experiences for students, supporting students in their work by incorporating more traditional roles as planner, presenter, instructor and performer.

Amanda Kinney from Texas Middle School in Texarkana believes that her robotics teams benefit from her having a hands off approach to the challenges her students face.  She works to establish a culture that allows her students to build their self-confidence by solving solutions with minimal guidance.  She helps get them pointed in the right direction with the coding of the robot, but she leaves it up to them to work collaboratively to design a plan to complete the Arena challenge.  Amanda says, “There are three aspects of growth I see in my students; increased self-confidence, improved problem solving skills, and stronger collaboration skills.  Other teachers have told me that they see positive changes in the kids that are in the program in these areas.  I love robotics so much for what it does for my students that I would hate it if I were not able to be their club sponsor.”

There is no doubt that students benefit from programs like Robotics.  While schools continue to look for ways to engage students differently in the core subjects, it is important not to forget how the non-core subjects can tie into student learning from core subjects.  In the best of situations, schools recognize how elective courses serve as an important piece that extend learning across disciplines.  Districts all across the state have recognized this and are putting it into practice by adding programs like Robotics.  Students are given an avenue for applying what they know in new ways, which is imperative for their preparation for life beyond K-12 education.

What unique programs has your district set in motion to give students the chance to safely apply their knowledge in new ways, where failure is often possible but not allowed to be the end result?  What gains have you seen when students are able to fail safely, but also provided the opportunity to evaluate their failures and work to create a new solution that provides for a better long term solution?  These are the types of opportunities that truly transform a student’s educational experience.

Picture1A student adjust his inventions robot during a competition.  Photo courtesy of Claudio Zavala, Cedar Hill ISD


Picture2Students watch as their robots navigate the arena challenge at a recent Area 19 competition.  Photo courtesy of Brian Grenier of El Paso ISD.


Thank you to John Bimmerle for providing this great account of what Robotics can offer. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.



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