This is my third year teaching, but my first time working with Project Lead The Way (PLTW) and a robotics course. After accepting this assignment, I was extremely nervous. I did not study robotics in college, and I had never, ever pictured myself in this role. But I am so very happy to have taken on this challenge.
My favorite part about teaching this class is the atmosphere and expectations that I set up with this class and my students. From the first day of school, I was completely honest with the kids. I broke down the walls of the normal teacher-student relationship where the teacher is looked at as the bearer of all knowledge and all knowledge is passed down from the teacher to the students. I created a culture where students and their knowledge are equally valued and as important as the teacher’s. This led to a culture of mutual respect and collaboration. I, as the teacher, was not viewed as the bearer of all knowledge, but as a helpful resource to rely on when problems arose. The most important part of creating this culture is setting up those expectations from the beginning of school.
The major theme from this class was “Problem-Solving”. I would present students with a variety of real-world scenarios and they would have to think of a design to solve that problem. They would work in groups of 2 to 4 students to create, construct, and program these robots to solve the problems I presented to them. This allowed for A LOT of different interpretations and ways to solve these problems, which was awesome!
Several key strategies that I incorporated into the class that proved to be successful were: purposeful grouping, incorporating student choice, and using students in a teacher’s role to help other students who needed more assistance. I incorporated a “Menus” style of teaching and learning. Students would be purposefully grouped into groups of 2-4 and then they would be presented with 3 different levels of activities: Appetizer, Main Meal, and Dessert. Within each level, students would have to choose 1 task out of 3 or 4 different options. As a group, students would choose which task to complete. Once decided, students would work as a group to design, build, and program the robot to complete the task. I would watch the robot perform the task, sign off on their paper, and they would move on to the next part of the menu. The activities got progressively more difficult as students moved from the Appetizer to the Main Meal to the Dessert level, with the Dessert level activities being the most difficult.
As we get ready to begin with the second semester, I cannot help but think about how much I have learned and how better of a teacher that I have become because of teaching this class. Some future ideas I have are the creation of a “Girls in STEM Club”. The purpose of this being opening girls’ eyes to future careers and possibilities associated with this class and the STEM ideals. Also, possibly creating a VEX Competition Robotics club where students would meet after school to construct robots to participate in VEX Robotics competitions. One thing that I realized early on in my teaching career is how much teachers learn from their students. Teaching this class has been one of the best learning experiences of my life.
– Ross Hartley
If you’re a teacher or robotics coach and would like to write a blog about your experiences teaching robotics, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!