FIRST Team 2219


If it ain't broke…wait a minute

A Case of Successful Integration of STEM Curricula for Students With LD (In Press)

By: Joseph J. Viscomi M.S. & Richard Collins Ph.D. {jviscomi, rcollins}@brehm.org

Secondary Schools dedicated to the education of students with learning disabilities face the responsibility of providing not only remediation, but state of the art instruction in all content areas to ensure that students have the information and formal training necessary to be competitive in college or in the areas of expertise they pursue. Our schools need to be reflective of the national agenda, which stresses Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Brehm has responded to the national agenda with increased instructional opportunities in Forensics, Physics, Chemistry, Anatomy, Pre- calculus, Calculus, Assistive Technologies, and Computer Programming. The focus of this article is on the introduction of our programming class and the robotics program with a discussion on the resulting benefit to campus.

Programming classes where implemented in order to give the students the ability to take abstract thoughts and complex problems and solve them using a computer. The language that is used is a derivative of LISP called SCHEME and was selected due to its simplified set of rules. which allows the students to learn all of the syntax to SCHEME in less than 30 minuets. It is analogues to learning chess in that the rules can be understood in a matter of minuets, but the game not mastered unless practice occurs with ongoing strategy implementations and having a plan of attack. This is in contrast to many other languages which require much more complex constructs and many special cases to the “rules” to gain basic functionality. The SCHEME programming language allowed the students to directly apply the use of the computer to complex concepts and problems, which resulted in direct results and solutions otherwise not possible. SCHEME has the advantage also of being interactive and will give instant feedback unlike many other languages. This is a definitive advantage when dealing with software bugs or short attention spans common to our students with executive function issue.

The successes of the programming class lead the school to seek resources to demonstrate hands on STEM applications in real world settings. We found the FIRST (For inspiration and recognition of Science and Technology—www.usfirst.org) organization and there FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). In a very practical way it merged engineers and students in a very innovative, beneficial, and exciting setting building robots to solve problems. The competition provided great opportunity for all involved and with the help of some mentors a successful program was established which the students are excited to be a part of. Because in a very real sense they demonstrate their skill sets head to head with teams form around the world in a very competitive environment, where gracious professionalism rules the rulebook!

It was obvious from the start that just as students with learning challenges in the classroom excel in creative thinking and hands on projects in the arts, they also excel in fun hands on STEM related projects. Students were learning science skills when it came to designing and testing theories for solving problems related to tasks the robot is to complete. Technology came into play when students needed to understand and use the latest industry standard computer, electronics, robotic parts and programs. Applying the science and technology together to solve a problem is exactly what engineering is all about. Application is the difficult process because it involves the melding of creativity, understanding, cooperation, stress, and experience. Linking complex math equations to tangible tasks and objects which the students were able to see, touch and interact with increased both their appreciation, competence, and fluency in the different subject areas. It grounded students conceptually and was motivational to students to seek more complex math skills in pre calculus and calculus.

The robotics program was implemented as a club on campus. While the students thought they were doing fun things they were also learning in ways that are not possible through standard classroom instruction. The students experienced STEM education and the intangibles skills of leadership, teamwork, tight timelines and real work stresses. The faculty in general noticed the positive impact to the experience in all areas of boarding school life and the experience had a profound impact on life decisions.

Quantifying the experience required us to look at graduation placements of students. Prior to the introduction of the robotics program students where not selecting STEM related majors entering college. Since the three-year inclusion of the program the students in the first graduating class who participated in the project matriculated to Cal Poly Tech, DePaul, Carnegie Mellon and Wisconsin Stout in majors such as Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Chemistry. It is a worthwhile project and provides the experiences, which allow entrance into a world not often seen as part of the realm of possibility of our students.

April 20th, 2010
Topic: Robotics News, Team Publications Tags: None

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