Doing the robot, NASA-style, in West Virginia

Students build, write code for, and test their own machines

Nasa video scren grab

Students at Board of Child Care’s West Virginia school took their first shot at the moon earlier this month, and teachers at the school hope it is not their last.

A student at BCC’s Martinsburg, West Virginia school tinkers with his robotic machine.

Presented by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation, students enjoyed a four-day trial of the VEX IQ Challenge program. Students had to chart their progress, build their machines, build lines and lines of operational code and then test their machines and abilities. VEX IQ provides open-ended robotics challenges that enhance the required content requirements for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Modeled after a similar program sponsored by NASA, the program fosters student development of the teamwork, critical thinking, project management, and communication skills required to prepare them to become the next generation of innovators and problem solvers.

Michael Lyden, the robotics instructor with the West Virginia Department of Education who oversaw the classroom application of the program, calls the program, “the most fun part of my job.”

“It’s fun because you are watching the kids playing simultaneously while they are learning,” Lyden says. “Our work with the institutional programs is rewarding because many of the kids have never seen this type of content, so seeing the huge confidence boost they receive is a thrill.”

Jackie Columbia, director of operations in West Virginia, says engagement changes when students enjoy the school content.

“On most days, you’ll notice the kids start to fidget about 15 minutes in advance of the class break for lunch, but during these robotics classes, the kids had to be directed to the cafeteria,” Columbia said. “When school is fun, it stops being school and starts being the best part of their day, and that’s what we’re always striving for when we bring programs in like this.”

The West Virginia Dept. of Education, through the Office of Institutional Education (OIE), oversees 21 juvenile facilities throughout the state, including the BCC’s school in Martinsburg, WV. The NASA initiative, offered to juvenile facility schools, helps teachers and students achieve mastery in the unique content while engaging students in math and science standards, says Ashley J. Skavenski, the Dept. of Education’s appointed Instructional Coach at BCC’s Martinsburg school.

“The (NASA) projects occur over a four-day span; however, we are going to provide professional development opportunities for our staff, in conjunction with NASA, to teach our teachers how to continue with the robots long after the (NASA) team visits each facility,” Skavenski said.