The insider's guide to the Jerome Fisher Program at the University of Pennsylvania

My M&T Summer: Teaching Robotics

An M&T’s work in innovation is never done! Our students spend their summers in a variety of ways from internships to research and, like rising freshman Alyssa, spreading the joy of STEM to the next generation. Alyssa shared her summer M&T experience with us in the post below.

 This summer, I spent three weeks teaching VEX IQ robotics at The Buckley School’s summer camp. VEX IQ is a simplistic, small scale platform for kids to discover the world of robotics. For two of the weeks I taught kids in fifth through eighth grade, and in the last week, I taught a beginners version to grades first through third. The purpose of including robotics in the summer camp is to expand the breadth of subjects offered through the camp. In past year s, the camp mostly consisted of different sports. Now, there are camps like mine that offer a fun way to learn about STEM subjects.

Why teach summer camp?

I got involved when the camp’s director reached out to me towards the end of my senior year. I went to Buckley for seven years and am very familiar with the school community. Also, I was a captain of the robotics team, so it was a great fit to run the robotics summer camp.

When the director asked me to teach, I immediately said yes! I was excited to introduce younger students to the world of robotics. It was great to share my personal experience and passion with them. Many of the camp attendees are Buckley students, so I also discussed the robotics opportunities offered at Buckley.

What did you do?

During the first week, the older students made a fully functional robot. They started with the driving base and learned about motors, gear ratios, and torque versus speed. Next, they built a working claw. Very similar to a garbage truck, the claw goes up and down and has a pincer-like grabbing mechanism. Finally, the students made any modifications they would like to craft their final robot.

During the second week, they created original games for all the teams’ robots to play. They came up with different versions of cup stacking games, racetrack games, and ball games. By making the games, I aimed to have them learn brainstorming skills and presentation skills. For each game, they had to create and present posters with a name, game rules, time duration, and drawing of the playing field. As a teacher, it was fun to watch them come up with ideas, actuate those ideas, and see their game unfold with their classmates and robots.

What did you take away from the experience?

As a teacher, I really wanted to impart more knowledge about the plethora of areas robotics and STEM encapsulates. I made a short PowerPoint presentation to run through with the kids each morning (a daily routine of sorts). It had one slide on a “STEM person of the day”, one on a subsect of engineering (such as mechanical, electrical, or aerospace), and a 5 minute TED talk on different types of robots being worked on in the world today. One day, I couldn’t get the sound to work for the projector and we couldn’t watch that day’s TED talk. The students audibly “aww’d” in disappointment! I told them we could watch it tomorrow and they all cheered. That was an affirming moment for me. It meant I had made learning about robots fun for them.

One of the most memorable moments was the turnaround I saw in one student. They were unfortunately picked on by others students in their group and it affected the way they saw their work. At one point, they said they just didn’t believe they were good at robotics, and would rather quit than keep failing. It was really heartbreaking to have someone so young say those kinds of things. But, in the end, they and their partner won the tournament and the prize: a NASA book of pictures and facts about space. Having them come up to me, a big smile on their face, and tell me they were glad they gave the robot another shot is something that will stick with me for a long time.

The whole camp was an incredibly unique and fulfilling experience. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in bringing STEM passions to younger generations!

 

Alyssa Furukawa is a Networked and Social Systems major concentrating in management. She is a member of the incoming Class of 2021 and plans to pursue an MBA after graduation. Her favorite thing about being an M&T is the ability to study engineering and business simultaneously. She also loves being able to learn about and envision the future at a University with such a rich past.

 

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