St. Gregory’s Hosts Robotics Workshop
Funded through an Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education Teacher Education Grant, the robotics workshop taught 50 4th-8th grade students from Shawnee, Tecumseh, Dale, Grove and Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School in Kingfisher how to build and program robots using LEGO® blocks and simple technology.
“I had initially a bigger response than I ever thought I would have,” said Dr. Gayle Fischer, Director of Teacher Education at St. Gregory’s and the organizer of the workshop. “Parents for almost all of the kids came to the game competition. We had three teachers here from two different school districts. We had more support for this than I ever could have imagined.”
A total of 17 college mentors from St. Gregory’s worked with the students, who were grouped into 13 teams of 4-5 kids that represented different age groups and school districts. Teachers from Cross Timbers Elementary in Tecumseh and Dale Middle School also attended the workshop, so they could learn to put on similar events in their respective school districts.
Lori Farris, of Grove School District, and her husband, Roger, from Gordon Cooper Technology, both mentors for the competitive robotics team “Sprockets” in Shawnee, oversaw the workshop, along with Preston Warden, also from Gordon Cooper. Their goal for the two-day event was to help students integrate real-world applications of core science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines into their projects.
“You see so many changes in the kids from the moment they start one of these workshops,” Lori Farris said, “their personalities and the ways that they interact with one another. They start working as a team. You start seeing them understand why they are taking math and science in school.”
The first day of the workshop included students building a basic robot using a construction diagram, followed by team work in which they were given a design project that required them to brainstorm to find an engineering solution to the problem.
“At the end of the day on the first day, where we had spent all day long with our noses to the grindstone and no recess or P.E. breaks, I asked the kids, ‘Would you like school to be like this every day?’” said Roger Farris. “They all said, ‘Yeah!’
“That hands-on activity and learning is what they really want. It’s enjoyable and satisfying for them because it fills that need to be challenged. It’s not like just playing a video game. It’s a different kind of fun.”
Approximately 75 parents, teachers and school administrators attended the game competition, on Saturday afternoon, as the teams put their robots to the test on a competition grid. Faculty from St. Gregory’s, including Dr. James Meyer, Dr. Sean Connolly and Dr. Angela James, along with SGU Business alum Tanner Naeher served as judges for the event. Laura Farris and Melissa Michie of the Oklahoma State Regents of Higher Education also helped with the judging and game competition set up.
Overall game competition championship trophies were awarded to Team “Geekers”—7th-grader Jacob Ingram from Shawnee Middle School, 5th-grader Kylee Simonds from Cross Timbers Elementary in Tecumseh, 4th-grader Keegan Grein from Will Rogers Elementary in Shawnee and 8th-grader Sidney Swart from Tecumseh Middle School. Ribbons were awarded to other teams for their achievements in Robot Design, Project Design, Technology and Core Values.
“I like doing this for the same reasons anyone likes to coach sports,” Roger Farris said. “It is exciting. You get that thrill and that rush. The energy level is just like a football game.
For her part, Fischer hopes to use momentum from this event to help train area teachers to host similar competitions and advance STEM education throughout their own schools.
“I want to loan our robot kits out to school districts like a library, so those teachers can do something like this, too,” Fischer said.
For more information about how a similar robotics workshop can take place in your school district, contact Dr. Gayle Fischer at firstname.lastname@example.org.