It’s a rapidly changing world with increasing automation, and students in one of Abbi Richcreek’s classes at Edgewood Middle School in Warsaw gathered around her as she brought “Rowdy,” a humanoid robot, to “life.” Richcreek let the students see some of the things Rowdy can do, including responding to touch commands.
Rowdy was put to use earlier in the school year by having him ride on a pony from room to room in a nursing home.
Robotics is a big part of the changing world, and students from elementary through high school grades in Warsaw Community Schools have opportunities to learn the different aspects of robotics.
“It’s a structure you can build and program and have the ability to interact with the user or environment and it typically involves sensors,” Richcreek said, giving a capsule summary of what robotics is.
She started the robotics club at Warsaw Community High School about eight years ago and is in her third year of teaching at Edgewood. She taught a total of 10 years at the Warsaw Area Career Center before moving to Edgewood.
Students in middle school grades can take elective robotics courses, which are nine weeks in length. Courses are aligned, and the same projects and curriculum are taught at Lakeview Middle School, the other middle school in the Warsaw school system.
One example of what students learn in a robotics class through specific state standards is they build a top structure on a square robot “to protect their balloons and they design a way to pop the other team’s balloons,” Richcreek noted. As part of building their robots, students become familiar with the tools and parts needed and also the design process.
Their designs are tested in a round of competitions and modifications can be made to those designs as needed.
Another example is students are learning about the types of mechanisms involved such as a chain drive, a simple gear and bevel gear systems and then they apply that knowledge when building a robot.
“Hands-on learning is important and applying knowledge is valuable,” she said, noting, “This is about engaging the students as much as possible.”
Some students may choose to participate in an after-school club where they build a robot during an eight-week time period that is designed for a specific challenge. At the end of April, Edgewood will host a robotics tournament with Lakeview, Washington STEM and surrounding middle schools competing, as well as some high school teams. Robotics competitions are an extracurricular activity.
What students are learning in robotics can be translated to several career options from engineering to industrial robots. Richcreek takes her students on a tour of Dalton Foundries to see industrial robots in action.
“I want the students to see what they (robots) can do,” she said, noting students can eventually enter careers where they operate, program or repair robots of different types. Someone has to program or repair the robots, she added.
In robotics, students learn teamwork, problem-solving skills and trial and error.
“At the elementary level, robotics is taught starting in kindergarten with students understanding the language of robots called code,” said David Burden, STEM instructional coach. “We teach students the foundational skills of programming through reading, writing, math and other subjects. Students continue to build on their skills through many different platforms of robotics as we introduce autonomous codes and sensors that respond to the environment in an algebraic code. The goal at the elementary level is for students to grasp that robots can be programmed to carry out tasks and that it is our job to communicate the coding language in order for the robots to be successful.”
“At the high school level, students in robotics work through a series of different robotic types and coding languages. These include Vex Robotics, Nao Humanoid Robots, Arduino MicroControllers and the Fanus Robotic arm,” said Ronna Kawsky, director of the Warsaw Area Career Center. “Throughout the courses, they explore the ways that robotics and automation are used throughout industry. The robotics classes are hands-on and focus on collaboration and problem-solving. Students can build off of previous knowledge learned at the middle and elementary level or they can start their robotics journey in high school.
“The job outlook for robotic engineers looks very promising considering how our society is moving toward automation in every aspect of our lives.”