The idea to offer the course, which is open to ninth through 12th graders, came from teacher David Ericson, who also leads the Quadrangles robotics team at South. In the class, students build and program robots and learn about the history of robotics, automation, motors and other topics. Ericson has been navigating how to adapt the class for online students.
The idea is to be able to expand on real world situations and then incorporate that into the classroom, and thats what were doing, Ericson said. Robots can be a really good thing. For example, robotic firemen why have a human go into a fire when we can program a robot to do that same function?
London Mitchell, a freshman, said prior to the class she had no experience with robotics, but had an interest in STEM.
I saw robotics as an elective and that just seemed like a really neat thing, Mitchell said. Im really glad that I ended up deciding to take it because its been really cool and interesting and Ive learned a lot already.
Ericson said hes aware that some students have no experience with robotics, so students read about the history of robotics before moving on to learning about automation and pneumatics and hydraulic systems. With their reading assignments, students do online discussion posts.
Other topics of the class include circuits, motors, how pumps and compressors work together to make pneumatic hydraulics work, the structure of a robot and motion subsystems, so how a robot moves forward or backwards and how it turns or lifts things. The class discusses if controls are autonomous or teleoperation. In other words, are things being done via remote control or automatically through programming.
Right now were in the coding stage of robots and thats been really fascinating, Mitchell said. Ive never really done that before. Its really interesting just to think through how that works. Then also, the readings that were doing are kind of learning about the history of robotics. Thats also really interesting to me like how it has come so far from where we started.
Ericson said even though the idea of a robot has been around for a long time, its a relatively new field. Ericson said he has the ability to provide one robot kit per student, up to 30 students, and has around 15 programming kits, so students are paired up with those. Students use the programming software called ROBOTC on desktops in the classroom.
The difficulty curve for getting ROBOTC set up and getting your first program written is a bit of a steep one, Hazel Roeder, a sophomore, said. So I try to assist with that and getting peoples first program down so that way they can have their robot run and actually do tasks.
As a teacher, some of Ericsons proudest moments come when he teaches a concept or idea that students can use to formulate into solutions for problems.
Thats what its all about to me, thats how I teach, Ericson said. I teach that using the applied problem, project based approach.
Ericson said it can be very difficult as a teacher to watch students struggle to figure things out, but he realizes that if he does the work for students, they wont learn anything. Thats why teamwork is a part of his class. Brock Teagarden, a junior, said students helping one another gives the class a good and fun environment.
The education level seems to increase higher when a student helps another student as opposed to the teacher helping the student, Ericson said. This is a very student centered environment. It is the students working with the students and theyre producing their results. And thats exactly what STEM education is. Thats exactly what its all about. Were practicing it here at Bloomington High School South and Im proud to be part of it.
Online and in person
Payton Gross, a senior, said its kind of hard to be an online student right now, because as someone who was already on the robotics team, she enjoys the hands-on aspect of building a robot.
But also, being online and not having the chance to do that, it gives me more of an opportunity to analyze the basics of robotics and really build my own foundation of knowledge that I can then use later on, Gross said.
Ericson said with his online students, he gives them curriculum in a written form, but they dont get the active engagement of being in class and being able to be hands-on or the ability to use ROBOTC, which is on the desktops in the classroom but not laptops, he said.
From a teaching standpoint, its very difficult, Ericson said. I feel that the students that are out there online, dont get the same level that you get being in person. But I also understand why parents and students would want to stay home, too. I understand that totally.
As of right now, the Monroe County Community School Corp. will be in phase yellow on Nov. 30, following the districts Thanksgiving break, which means high schoolers will be on a hybrid schedule.
Online, I mean, I cant pass the projects through the computer, Ericson said. And I cant ask them to try to gather up materials to be able to do stuff.
Ericson also teaches a construction class, so students are working with saws and drills, quite different from other subjects, like art, where some supplies might be able to be sent home.
For the robotics club, one of the things that we did do is we have taken tubs of parts to certain students to build prototypes with, Ericson said. So there is some active stuff going on. But the students by themselves, they can come and talk to the mentors, but as far as being able to interact together as a team, and in person were not doing that, its all virtual.
Diversity in robotics and STEM
I am a diversity STEM instructor, so Im engaging everybody and showing their perspective on things, Ericson said. And Im encouraging people to work together. Robotics is something that men and women both should be involved with.
Gross said For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), is an organization that the robotics club at South is involved in.
Its this whole global program that has different levels of robotics for different ages, Gross said. In 2019 for the overall program, 48% of any of the participants were actually women. So thats almost a 50/50 divide, which is a really good number, considering how STEM is often male dominated. And FIRST is really working to change that.
Gross said in past years, the robotics team at South has done programs with Girls in Engineering, Math and Science (GEMS) at the Bloomington High School North library and does middle school outreach programs to expand diversity, including racial diversity. Due to COVID-19, those kind of outreach efforts have been more difficult.
Gross said as a freshman on the robotics team, she was able to volunteer at the FIRST World Championship competition in Detroit, Michigan, and she saw a lot of teams of all girls from Japan, Pakistan and other areas of the world.
It really, really helped inspire me to stay in the program and really help develop the diversity within not only our Bloomington area, but hopefully someday across the world, Gross said.
Contact Emily Cox at 812-331-4243, email@example.com or follow @HT_InSchool on Twitter.
Robotics elective offered at South for the first time - Times-Mail