Robots take over the classroom
Robots take over the classroom banner

Robots take over the classroom
Jude Doble

On a November morning, groups of eager grade eight students circle around a desk scattered with metal parts. With coaching from an enthusiastic high school senior, they all work together to assemble a functioning, pneumatic robot in the classroom.

For three years, Elmira’s Park Manor Public School (PMPS) and Elmira District Secondary School (EDSS) have partnered to bring STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to life for their students, through a two-day collaboration.

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Grade 10 students in EDSS’s technology program, design, fabricate and build robots as part of their curriculum. They, along with senior students from the robotics club, bring the robots to

Park Manor, where they present a pneumatics lesson to grade eight students and guide them through assembling the robots.

Chloe Koch, an eighth-grade student, has never done this kind of thing before. “We normally just listen in class, but we got to build a robot in teams and test it out, with the help of a mentor. That’s a really cool experience.”

For eighth-grader Gavin Wilson, the hands-on learning is not only fun but it’s helping him better engage with the curriculum. “Since building the robot, it’s easier to understand how pneumatics work; it’s all starting to makes sense for me now,” he said.

That’s the goal the organizers had in mind: to bring real-life applications of fluid power, or pneumatics, into the classroom. “Every student is engaged and having a good time,” said Bob Phillips, a PMPS science teacher. “Even if their robot doesn’t work out, they’ve still had a positive experience with the program and have a greater understanding of the unit we’re studying.”

This workshop provides a novel approach to the typical learning formula. Students do intensive, hands-on work in a fun atmosphere, which is a nice break from regular classroom instruction, and they have peer mentors lead the lessons, while the teachers take a back seat.

For the high school students, it’s an opportunity to develop their presentation and leadership skills, and act as a mentor. “For some of our technology students, mentoring is a bit out of their element,“ said Ron Fletcher, an EDSS technology teacher. “But we strongly encourage them to challenge themselves to do this, as it builds their confidence and helps foster a collaborative learning environment that benefits everyone.”

A student from PMPS works on a robot

Several of the students involved in the EDSS robotics club participate in First Robotics, a national robotics competition, and they are eager to share their passion for technology.

Emily Klosa, a grade 12 student and member of the robotics club, volunteered to present at the workshop and to oversee the large-scale robots they brought from EDSS as demonstrations.

“Growing up I was involved with Engineering Science Quest at the University of Waterloo camps and it inspired my passion in STEM,” she says. “Now I want to show girls that tech isn’t scary and it’s okay to ask questions. I want everyone to have a chance to get as excited about STEM as I am.”