Courses in robotics might be the latest trend for helping high school students implement in physical form the principles they are learning in technology, engineering, and electronics courses.
Designing and building a robot or other mechanized object shows students how scientific and mathematical principles actually work. The fun of making a robot also increases students’ interest in these often abstract concepts. As the teacher of a team of students who won a national robotics competition this year explains, “When they actually have to learn gear ratios and the relationship between the power of the motor and its output speed, it becomes crystal clear.”
DuPont sponsors a series of extracurricular courses and competitions, called Miracle Workerz, that is spurring students across the country to test their technology skills by building and perfecting robots. Boeing and NASA also support robotics and engineering education with grants and after-school programs. A robotics competition known as FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, http://www.usfirst.org) has more than 20,000 students participating each year.
Educators point to the popularity of television shows that feature robots engaged in combat or competitions between other homemade machines (“BattleBots” and “Junkyard Wars”) as giving students the sense that robots are cool. High school guidance counselors point out that the United States continues to turn out an inadequate number of engineers, so students who learn these skills will have excellent professional prospects.