• April 21, 2020
  • BY Jeff Quyle

Robotics Teams Prepare Students for the Future

Robotics clubs in Radius Indiana communities work to provide students with encouragement and skills training that could prove valuable when they enter the workforce.

In step with the growing use of robotics in industry, students across the region are showing interest in robotics. In many cases, their interests are growing beyond merely exploring a hobby, and going beyond the Star Wars world of R2D2 and C3PO.

A survey of online resources shows there’s a vast array of entities offering robotics training and others proclaim the value of robotics skills in current and future job opportunities. In many Radius area schools, students have the opportunity to gain robotics skills while learning what value they might have for them in the future.  It is a positive effort that provides STEM-related educational opportunities.

The students also learn how to work together and develop problem-solving skills.

Lisa Emmick teaches fifth and sixth-grade science with a strong emphasis on technology at North Elementary School in the Washington Community Schools. This was her first school year as the coach of the school’s 10-student robotics team, whose members are from the fifth and sixth grades.

She has been frequently surprised by the students’ abilities to adapt to new challenges.

“I told them repeatedly that I keep underestimating them,” Emmick said. “They have really come together as a team. We put 10 students, across two grades, together, and while most are not close friends in ‘real’ life, when they walk into practice or competition it would never be known to anyone else.  They have become teammates.”

Tara Weisheit, who teaches at Washington’s Veale Elementary School, was in her fourth season with her team of fourth, fifth and sixth graders when the school year was interrupted by the COVID outbreak. Her program has received funding from the Foundation for Youth and made it to the state finals at Lucas Oil Stadium during her first year.  The Washington schools also have worked with Daviess County Economic Development Corporation.

Chad Wiseman and Angela Moody are engineers at Naval Support Activity Crane who together coach a Greene County 4H team, which covers seven schools. The team involves 25 students in grades 3 through 12 who regularly compete. Additionally, there is a program for kindergarten through second grade.

The teachers and coaches say there is a real need for people with robotics-related skills, “With everything being automated, there will be even more need as we go into the future,” Wiseman said.

To impress upon the students the role of robotics, there have been tours of industries using robotics such as Crane or a Toyota plant.

The Greene County team leaders also have been pleasantly surprised by student ingenuity. One student’s mobility was limited because he was in a wheelchair, so the student invented a device that enabled him to reach the robot.

“We’ve been doing this for five years,” said Moody, who also serves as a 4-H leader. “And during those years many students have developed new skills that aren’t limited to just robotics, but also involve computer-related fields.”

Greg Fedrick, a Bedford resident, also works at Crane. He formed a robotics group in 2011 for five home-schooled children in his community. Club membership grew until it peaked at 135 members and now has between 60-70 members.  It is now a partnership of 4H and the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence County.

During competitions, the coaches stand back and let the students do all the work. No planning, building or coaching is allowed during the competitions, placing an emphasis on the problem-solving skills of the students.

“They never cease to amaze me when something goes wrong,” Emmick said. “At our first competition, after months of practice with our setup, our main claw snapped off in the first round of competition. No one blamed anyone, no one pouted or complained. They picked up the robot, headed to their pit, sat down on the floor as a team, and proceeded to have a functioning robot without adding any pieces by the next round—they have become problem solvers.”

The coaches said several team members have expressed interest in possibly pursuing a career in engineering or robotics.

“Honestly, robotics is too much work to just be a hobby,” Emmick said.