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Learning Matters: STEMs from a robotics competition

October 19, 2013|By Joylene Wagner

The event was just a practice-round Lego robotics competition for elementary and middle school students, held at Roosevelt Middle School as a way to introduce new teams to how such competitions work.

Nonetheless it was a model of how schools can integrate science, technology, engineering and mathematics — often called STEM — into instruction. Much of what education and business leaders have called central to improving education and preserving America's leadership in the world was in evidence at Roosevelt last week.

Nearly 20 teams came from Glendale and beyond, happy to spend a Saturday directing their robotic Lego vehicles across tables spread out in the gym and under the lunch shelters. Laptops in hand, team members sent their robots humming and whirring on their assigned tasks, trying for speed and efficiency. The tasks were fun, obviously. But they were practical too: They modeled responses to natural disasters.

Many of the students were accompanied by equally enthusiastic parents — a few of them professional engineers from technology powerhouses like Jet Propulsion Laboratory — all of them eager to support their children's budding interests. Both parents and teachers served as team advisers. Others milled about as happy fans or manning snack tables.

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Engineering students from Glendale Community College and CSUN volunteered as judges, while robotics students at Crescenta Valley High School mentored those taking part in the competition. (Robotics students at Clark Magnet High School were unable to participate, as they were competing at another event). All shared their experience and enthusiasm for robotics. It was inspiring for all — the younger students, but also those older. I suspect some high school seniors went home and recounted this experience in college application essays.

In the midst of everything were two teachers, Randy Kamiya and Frank Gonzalez. Kamiya started offering robotics soon after coming to Roosevelt from John Muir Elementary in 2005. Gonzalez joined him shortly thereafter. Since then, they have been spreading the word and the robots to young students and teachers across the district.

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