Robotics Elective Offers Challenge Mixed With Fun

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Electric engines whir. Children cheer and squeal as two “Lego trucks” pivot and squirm on tires that behave more like claws than wheels. The robots, created by Sheridan students, strain against cords attached to their rear axles to drag a Lego piece across a midline between them. Think tug-of-war between monster trucks, only on a much smaller scale. From the excitement in the room, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the stakes in this competition are on the monster truck scale, too.

But the prize here is bragging rights about whose modifications to the basic robot design supplies their creation with enough power to tug their way to victory in a classroom round-robin competition. Using Lego’s WeDo Script programing language, Derek Morton’s 4th and 5th grade Robotics elective combined twenty-first century STEM skills with Sheridan’s student-centered, hands-on, inquiry-based learning principles.

Throughout the elective, which ran 14 weeks, the students practiced competencies they’ll need to succeed both inside the school building and in careers in engineering, architecture, programming, math, computer science and more — the list goes on and on. Skills the students learned and practiced included building to specification, testing and modifying a design to improve it, using logic to write meaningful code, and collaborating in teams that work purposefully to perform specific, practical, tasks. While there seemed to be quite a lot of fun going on, the learning was palpable and practical as well.

While women may be under-represented in the professions his elective targets, Mr. Morton notes that at Sheridan the girls participate and thrive in his classes in numbers equal to boys. This is reflective of the work done at Sheridan each day — from kindergarten through 8th grade, our faculty strive to celebrate individual strengths and undermine societal assumptions about what each of us can or should be able to do.