Giving Compass' Take:

Technology teacher Robin Corbeil describes how a robotics competition helped students gain confidence in coding and problem-solving, while deeply connecting with the work.

How will promoting student confidence in robotics help shape the future workforce? Are educators promoting more STEM competitions/classes in your local school district?

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As the computer instructor for Litchfield Middle School, I’ve tried different ways of engaging my students in coding as well as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in general. Some tactics have been less successful than others.

For example, I tried, but my students lost interest after a day or two (the courses have probably changed since then). I also took on responsibility for the math club, but although we did do some competitions, it was a struggle to get students to even be associated with the club because it wasn’t considered "cool." We even tried turning it into a STEM club, but we just couldn’t increase membership.

Two years ago, I began managing student teams for robotics competitions. That engaged some students, but it took a lot of time, effort, energy, knowledge and direction. However, in 2018, our school took part in an online coding and robotics tournament, Cyber Robotics Coding Competition (CRCC). That event took less of my time, was easier to manage, and our school won second place in the state of New Hampshire. And I was able to pull it off with little more than two years’ experience in computer science under my belt.

One of the best things about CRCC is that it can easily accommodate teachers with no experience at all. Participants had to program virtual 3D robots to perform complex tasks and missions, but it didn’t require a ton of my time to get set up on the competition’s CoderZ Cyber Robotics Learning Environment. Also, it wasn’t something I had to take students through step-by-step. The missions were very intuitive, so they could work independently. They really didn’t rely on me for answers, direction or motivation.

For me, the competition was not about learning a specific block code language, but rather about students gaining confidence in an area they may not necessarily think is within their capabilities. I saw that the most with the girls. I think they come into the computer class feeling unsure, and they end up being some of my strongest students.

Read the full article about robotics competition by Robin Corbeil at Education Dive.