From Bio to Bots: Summer Training and First Triumphs

Part of my identity has always been about Science and especially Biology. However, as part of my new assignment this year I have been given a robotics course. After receiving that initial email my heart sank as I began a mourning process for Biology and a frantic search for a robotics training program. My biggest question was, "Can I be as passionate about robotics as I am about Biology?" Because if not, justice will not be done for my students. 

The Course

A small group of people have assembled at the curb. “Are you here for the robotics academy?” I probe. Nods in affirmative are directed towards me. The shuttle arrives and we all climb aboard. We are off to the Carnegie Melon Engineering and Robotics Centre.

Our EV3 robot with some of our programming later in the course.

An EV3 robot awaits my attention. Two PCs sit behind it. We are instructed to look at the robot and find the input and output ports. Really? What in the world are those? The robot is awkward in my hands and my lego partner is equally baffled at our task. We fumble around with the robot and then set it back on the table. Opening the software and instructional videos, we begin our journey of becoming instructors of robotics.

Feeling Triumphant

Over the next 4.5 days we spend intense and concentrated time with our little EV3 robot. Immediate satisfaction is ours when it performs the first, simple tasks that we have programmed it to complete. As the week progresses our programming challenges become more complex and we find ourselves, along with the other participants rejoicing with each successful program. Entwined with our programming adventure are robotics pedagogy and incorporation of STEM. We engage in great discussions and brainstorming on teaching robotics to 4th graders as well as to university students taking introductory computer science classes.

We end the week with a battery of information, added confidence, 36 hours of professional development and a chance to take the instructor certification exam within the month.

After reviewing the course materials, I face the exam. Once again satisfaction was mine as I earned the EV3 Instructor Certification. And what a benefit it’s been as I embark on teaching a robotics course through a distance learning set-up! 

I’m officially excited about this new adventure! And cheers to all teachers out there facing a new class this year and to anyone learning something new! It stretches the mind, increases awareness of what it means to be a student, and keeps the brain young!

The Triumphs

The first submission I received. And others have followed!!!!!!!!!!!!

From 13100 km and 9 hours in times zones, my students have successfully built their robots and engaged in discussions with me regarding robots and programming. Each mini-challenge has resulted in students sharing their programs as well as their reflections regarding their learning and their challenges. For their first major challenge of each unit I have decided to have them send me a video of their robot completing the challenge, especially since I can't be there to actually see it. This week the first group sent me their video and I realized three important things:

  1. The distance learning is actually working and students are making progress (and it clearly helps that there is a fantastic substitute in the classroom facilitating progress)!
  2. I AM passionate about robotics! The thrill and joy that rushed through me when I viewed their simple video nearly resulted in me jumping from my chair rejoicing. Immediately I gathered those in the room to see. And how I longed to be there to celebrate my students' success in person. It was, indeed, as thrilling as waiting for my biology students to recognise the stomata under a microscope.  
  3. Just like I have, for years, said to my science students, "Isn't science AMAZING", I'll be saying to my robotics students, "Isn't robotics SO COOL?!"

I guess we can become passionate in nearly anything if we invest and commit ourselves. What a great relief this comes to me! Again, kudos to all of you out there embarking in something new and here's wishing you the discovery of passion for what you do!

P.S. I'm still teaching Science (Chemistry and Physical Science) as well as a Basic Apps course which is also really fun!