Robotics: Not just for advanced students (continued)

“They are so interested,” she said. “It’s helping them to learn analytical thinking.”

Seventh-grader Baez decided to enroll in the elective class after taking a summer robotics course.

“It’s a challenge. It’s something new I can do in the future,” said Baez, who aspires to be a game programmer.

Seventh-grader Chris Gomez signed up for the elective class hoping it would help him learn to design and build robots and other electronics in the future. The pre-algebra student says the class is helping “make math easier” for him.

University research, funded in part by the National Science Foundation and feedback from K-14 teachers, helped to shape the curriculum that the UCD program teaches to educators. The classes include computer programming and robotics, one that integrates computing with high school math and another that merges robotics and film production.

UCD-shaped courses are now being taught at more than 60 schools across the state, including 37 in the greater Sacramento region. Demand is so high that Cheng is considering a program that would turn teachers into trainers that could start as early as next summer. He also plans to add curriculum for students in geometry and algebra II.

Starting the program wasn’t as simple as developing curriculum to train teachers. UC Davis researchers wanted to build a robot that would be more practical for everyday classrooms than the ones with hundreds of parts that typically have been used in schools.

The first version of what they created—Barobo—was designed five years ago and patented by the university. The robot is called a linkbot, because it is a modular robot that can be linked with other robots to build bigger robots that can accomplish complicated tasks and solve advanced problems.

C-STEM, which is self-sustaining, charges school districts $200 to train each teacher and an additional $300 for software for the robotics program, depending on curriculum, Cheng said. The linkbots cost $189 each, or $149 if a school is working with C-STEM. Schools that can’t afford the linkbots can run computer simulations instead, Cheng said.

(Next page: Impact of the robotics program on students)