New robotics learning opportunities for Jacksonville Beach students this summer

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FIRST LEGO League (FLL) robotics is on the rise in Northeast Florida, with an all-time high of 1500 kids on 130 teams across the region, according to FIRST’s regional partner Renaissance Jax. This summer, the STEM2 Hub partnered with the Boys & Girls Club in Jacksonville Beach to offer FLL programs to a new group of students in fourth to eighth grade.

While the Boys & Girls Clubs are well-known for their academic supports during the school year, the robotics programs marked a new development for their summer program, which is usually more recreational. It was a promising decision: results from the post-program student survey indicated that nearly 90 percent of the students felt that their robotics experience improved their outlook on STEM education. These results support the vision of the Boys & Girls Club, to assure that every child graduates on time with a plan for their future, leads a healthy lifestyle and demonstrates good character and leadership.

“It was a great experience for everyone in our Boys & Girls Club; it got most of our members engaged and excited about participating in the robotics competition this fall,” said Deborah Ward, the Beaches unit director for Boys & Girls Club of Northeast Florida. The students universally felt that their introduction to robotics allowed them to learn while having fun.

“There was a short time period where I was not interested, but I found out that LEGO robotics is my passion,” said Chyna Smith, a student at the Beaches Club.

FIRST LEGO League gives students an opportunity to research a real-world problem and brainstorm solutions. On this occasion, the Beaches students explored a previous FIRST LEGO League topic, TRASH TREK, which follows the recycling process and asks students how to improve or expand recycling options in their community. They also designed, built, and programed a robot using LEGO MINDSTORMS® software, then pitched their robots against each other in a tabletop competition.

“As an experienced teacher and coach for LEGO robotics, I can’t imagine a better program to get young people excited about science, math and technology. A team working together to solve complex problems with effective technological solutions they’ve built and programmed, researched and debated, reaches every level of the educational framework,” said James Hunter, a coach at the Beaches Club.

More encouraging news from the student survey:

  • 87 percent of the students who participated in the program agreed that robotics improved their outlook on taking college prep math and science courses.
  • The students also overwhelmingly responded that their experience with robotics made them more likely to pursue a career in STEM.

They got a firsthand look at some of these career opportunities when they took a field trip to the Kennedy Space Center in July.

Program organizers got positive feedback from parents, too.

“I noticed that Von Shana is a little more insightful, when it comes to figuring out problems. It has also affected her at home, she actually does her chores (finally!),” said her mom, Chris DuBois.

On the last day of the summer program, the robotics students put on a demonstration for other students at the Beaches Club and made a presentation about the theme for 2017-2018, Hydro Dynamics. They talked about their summer experience, and encouraged their friends to enroll in the fall.

“Robotics is cool!” said Pablo Campos, one of the students. “We want to come here every year, including winter, to learn how to build and program robots and do projects like TRASH TREK,” said his friend, Darius Hayes.

Check out the schedule for FIRST Lego League activities in Northeast Florida through our partner Renaissance Jax.


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