Idaho Middle School Uses Robotics in Classes to Teach Problem-Solving

The school in Twin Falls received a $10,000 grant to purchase educational robotics for sixth grade students.

by Julie Wootton-Greener, The Times-News / October 15, 2018

(TNS) — BUHL — In his robotics class at Buhl Middle School, sixth-grader Jonathan Zamora is learning about the process of trial and error.

“We’re getting to know how to do the fine motor skills with the robots,” Zamora said Tuesday as he worked on a laptop computer programming his robot.

The 12-year-old said building a robot and learning computer coding is a lot easier than he expected. And he has discovered he enjoys robotics and signed up for an after-school robotics club.

Every sixth-grader at Buhl Middle School is taking a new quarter-long robotics class that lasts roughly eight weeks.

“It’s an experiment this year, but I think it’s going to continue,” computer science/robotics teacher Terry Silveus said.

Students learn problem-solving and computational skills, she said. It also helps open their eyes to options in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

“They get problem-solving skills, which is needed no matter what they do,” Silveus said. And while one or two students may complain about having to take robotics, “most are enjoying it.”

Silveus received $10,000 grant last school year from the Idaho STEM Action Center, which allowed her to buy robotics equipment. School officials decided to create a robotics offering for all sixth-graders.

During one of Silveus’ robotics classes Tuesday morning, about 20 students had mats laid out on the classroom floor for the Junior Botball Challenge. They were working on their final project for the class, which wraps up Oct. 19.

Students must complete a flow chart where they make a plan for what their robot will do, build a blade that can push a can and program their robot to complete tasks.

“It’s mostly just problem solving and thinking through it,” Silveus said. Students essentially use three commands, and change numbers and the time motors run, she said.

Students program their robot using a laptop computer to push empty Dr Pepper cans to certain places on the game board, including into the “garage” — a green square on the mat.

One girl asked Silveus for help because she was having trouble getting the robot to do what she wanted.

As Silveus looked at information on the laptop screen, she told the student: “Let’s make that a negative and let’s make that a little longer.”

Some students in Silveus’ class were ahead of schedule with their final project. They were helping classmates and working on their own projects.

Sixth-grader Levi Machado, 12, had used Lego robots before — but nothing that involved programming.

Some challenges in robotics class are hard and some are easy, he said, and he’s learning how to build things. “Just putting it all together is pretty hard.”

Despite new obstacles to overcome, Levi said he’s interested in continuing to learn more about robotics.

©2018 The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.