About 200 students from six local schools will compete Monday in the College of Education & Integrative Studies’ annual Robot Expo.
The event is designed to help children learn and apply mathematical concepts, such as fractions, proportions and rate and linear equations. It also gives teachers a chance to be trained in robotics instruction as part of a new approach to teaching academic standards.
“The main purpose is to help students see the relevance of mathematics and to help students make it through algebra and beyond. Algebra, historically, has been a problem for students nationally,” says education Associate Professor Cesar Larriva. “There’s an extremely high failure rate. In our field we call it the gatekeeper course. Failing algebra closes off students’ opportunities, like going to college.”
For example, students learn algebra and put it to work while programing the robots for the “gatecrasher” challenge, which requires the machines to pass through a 14-inch-wide gate that remains opens for a few seconds. The robot cannot touch the gate, which stands a few feet away. Algebra helps the students figure out the precise timing needed to pull off the maneuver.
“Students have to know how to calculate rate or speed in this case,” Larriva says.
A second challenge is the LEGO Sumo contest, where two robotic contestants try to push or flip each other out of a circular ring within a two-minute time period. The robot that wins two of three bouts wins the match. The third challenge is programming the robot to perform certain maneuvers to locate a hypothetical archeological object in the desert. Each team gets one attempt, and the team that comes closest to the object wins.
The Robot Expo in unique in its additional focus on teacher training: Larriva trained many of the teachers from participating schools in their own classrooms. They, in turn, trained more of their peers.
The teachers then incorporated what they learned into their classroom instruction. Their students use LEGO Mindstorms NXT robotics invention kits to assemble their machines. In addition to mathematics, the curriculum also challenges students in science, literacy, writing and technology.
Starting this fall, teachers will be able to earn a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and humanities, and math) certificate through the College of the Extended University. The one-year program will prepare teachers to use robotics and other project-based approaches to help students meet academic standards in subjects that historically have been taught separately.
Students participating in the Robot Expo are from four elementary and two middle schools in the Pomona and Walnut Valley school districts. They are Montvue and Kingsley elementary and Emerson middle schools in the Pomona Unified School District; and Collegewood and Evergreen elementary and Suzanne middle schools in the Walnut Valley Unified School District.