When Elk Hill’s robotics team first begins working together, some friction is inevitable. One student suggests a better way to build a bot. Someone takes it the wrong way. Tempers flare.
But with the guidance of teacher Kristin Quinn, the team gradually learns to communicate and collaborate more effectively. “I’ll have students ask their peers, ‘Are you up for constructive criticism on this?’” she says.
In the process, each student discovers their own strengths. “Some are logical thinkers and really like the programming aspect,” Quinn says. Some love to design, some love to build, and some enjoy problem-solving. There’s a place for all of them on the team.
Each year, Elk Hill Staunton School’s robotics team competes in the FIRST Tech Challenge. Teams build small robots and compete with other teams in a challenge with specific parameters. This year, the “Freight Frenzy” challenge required teams to design robots that could pick up “freight” (objects of different sizes and weights) and deliver them to a “shipping hub.” The competition includes both an autonomous portion and one in which team members control the robots.
Not only are students benefiting from real-world engineering experience, but they’re growing in other ways. Studies have shown that FIRST Tech Challenge participants show significant gains in workforce skills such as teamwork, communication, and problem-solving.
“What makes this program so exciting is that our students don’t typically have opportunities like this,” says Dr. Laura Easter, Chief Operating Officer at Elk Hill. “Their behavioral and emotional challenges would prevent them from participating in robotics in other school environments. At Elk Hill, we can provide the students with the necessary supports to help them be successful while engaging them in important, fun, and challenging projects.”
At a FIRST Tech Challenge a few years ago, one stressed-out student withdrew from participating at the last minute. This meant another student had to take over driving the robot — a task he wasn’t familiar with. The third student on the team went with the new driver to the practice field and coached him through controlling the bot. In the pressure of competition, our youth perservered.