Tukes Valley students learn advanced computer skills through robotics

posted Dec 14, 2017, 3:51 PM by Joe Vajgrt

Tukes Valley students learn advanced computer skills through robotics

December 14, 2017

Technology teacher Sherry Lilly is passionate about preparing students for the technological demands of 21st Century jobs. At Tukes Valley middle school, that means finding fun and effective ways to introduce advanced concepts like computer science and programming.

That’s where robotics comes in.

Introduction to STEM Robotics is a new elective open to eighth grade students at Tukes Valley. The course teaches foundational skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Working with robots everyday, students learn about circuits and computers; hardware, software and firmware; and lots of programming concepts such as Boolean logic and loops. Students begin each class honing their typing skills for about ten minutes, and then they pull out the robots.

Battle Ground Public Schools has been working to expand STEM offerings to middle school students. Besides Robotics, Tukes Valley also offers Design and Modeling to seventh graders and basic technology classes. Other middle schools around the district, including Chief Umtuch, and Pleasant Valley, have begun offering similar STEM courses over the past three years.

Included in the bond measure that the district is asking voters to consider in the February 13, 2018, election is funds to create flexible spaces for STEM classes at Maple Grove K-8 and Amboy and Laurin middle schools.

At Tukes Valley, eighth grade Robotics students work in pairs on LEGO robots to troubleshoot and solve programming issues and complete project tasks. They use Mindstorm software to write algorithms and program blocks and download, test, modify and reflect on their projects. Students' typing and programming skills come in handy when they write code that maneuvers their robots, incorporating technologies such as touch sensors to navigate and overcome obstacles. Students also assess each other's progress and provide feedback on projects. 

“The robotics class is interactive. Mrs. Lilly assigns fun and challenging projects, and it’s helpful getting feedback and learning from peers,” said eighth grader Makayla Loose, who caught the Robotics bug from her mother. 

“A huge benefit of using robots is that they help demystify a complex technology while teaching students how to productively channel frustration through problem solving and creativity,” Lilly said. “This curriculum teaches students a step-by-step engineering mindset and helps build solid programming skills. Every student can feel comfortable exploring the world of computer science through robotics.”  

The program at Tukes is also unique because it is hands-on. Students gain practical skills that help prepare them for future careers. Eighth grader Ben Mode turned to math, for example, to reconfigure the distance his robot needed to travel. Instead of relying on trial and error, Ben mathematically re-calculated the distance and made the necessary programming tweaks in his  computer code.

Once students achieve a project goal, they make videos of their robots successfully completing the task. They also use programs such as Scratch and LEGO Digital Designer to design and build models. 

Students can continue their work with robots outside of class in an after-school program that centers around First Lego League Robotics competitions. 

Tukes Valley’s team, the Timberwolf Techs, recently advanced to the Western Washington Semifinals after placing in the top six at the regional First Lego League Robotics competition. Teams from Daybreak and Chief Umtuch middle schools were also selected to advance to the semi-finals. 

While not every student in the Robotics class or after-school robotics club will pursue a degree or career in STEM, each student is getting valuable exposure to in-demand skills that will help prepare them for the future.