UVU program embraces learning for elementary students through robotics

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Rinamay Rhoten, news writer

Photos by Laura Fox

A joint afterschool program from UVU and Alpine School District is providing elementary students with the chance to work on math and science skills as they build programmed robots with Lego kits.

The robotics program features students and faculty from UVU who will help instruct the elementary students participating in the program. UVU students will be working for ten weeks by going into classrooms and teaching kids how to program a robot.  They are planning for kids from fifth and sixth grade to build a programed robot by themselves using Lego Mindstorms, a kit that has software to create and personalize a programmed robot.

“It’s not as difficult as it seems. However, we want to factor in the variables,” said Ben Everitt, UVU student and teacher of the robotics program.

The new project is to help students see how math and science along with engineering is used every day.

“The main focus of this project is mathematics but we‘ll incorporate science and also engineering,” said Vessela Llieva, assistant professor in UVU elementary education.

In the ten-week program, Learning Through Robots, nearly a dozen students from Utah Valley University will be working with students in the classroom. The first week the students will have to assemble a robot using Legos. In the second week the students will learn about the software.

“Even though it’s an afterschool program, I treat it like a classroom. The students raise their hand and know they have to listen,” said Everitt.

Each class begins with a math lesson.

“They have to figure out the circumference or the dimensions of the tires,” said Everitt.

At the end they also give out homework that will be reviewed next class session.

Currently, the program is not in the curriculum, but there are a lot of people that would like to see it become a permanent program.

“While this is the first attempt in a project like this, the results are very positive,” said Llieva.

This project goes beyond just teaching about math and science.  This is also an opportunity for children that aren’t motivated with textbooks to get hands on experience

“They are also learning discipline and how to explore,” said Llieva. “We want students to be skilled and confident.”

Most robotic programs have always been in middle schools and high schools in past years. Alpine school district wants to get kids excited about math and science from an early age.

“We know that not all kids are good at math, this is a way to get them excited about math because it’s engaging,” said Elaine Turf, Associate professor of UVU elementary education.

Research has shown that when students enter middle school they already know whether or not they are good at math and science. The reason most kids signed up for the program was to learn and have the opportunity to build a robot. It’s not just playing with Legos. It’s the opportunity to challenge themselves.

The robotics program is an elaborate program that needed a lot of funding. The program received funds from a UVU grant for engaged learning from the Alpine School District and a generous $40,000 donation from Renya Kikuchi, chairman of Learning Systems in Japan. In total the project cost roughly $73,000.

“I believe it is worth it, especially with how the world is moving, teaching children from an early age that they can do something with math and science,” said Turf. The kids that are building the robots are around the ages of eleven to thirteen. The robots are made up of Legos and other construction kits. Each robot will be different.

“This isn’t just for boys. It’s boys and girls coming together forming a unity and experiencing math and science being used in real life,” said Everitt.

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