With a quickly expanding population of students this year, teachers at Tartesso Elementary School were looking to find new ways to engage and inspire the next generation.
In addition to more than 20 after-school activities to enhance learning, technology teacher Joel Wisser wanted to bring robotics classes to the nearly 500 students in his far West Valley school.
Thanks to a grant focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) from APS Foundation and the Phoenix Suns, students are now participating in an innovative weekly session that has them learning skills that could lead to a future career.
“The APS/Suns grant allowed us to expand our offerings so we could get materials needed for an introductory and advanced robotics after-school class,” said Wisser, who has been teaching computer programming and app design in the Saddle Mountain Unified School District for five years.
“We were able to purchase 12 robotic kits plus a gaming field which is allowing these kids to learn programming, how to incorporate sensors and making the robots autonomous,” Wisser said. “It’s teaching team building and problem solving skills that they will use well beyond their school years.”
Once the students in grades three through eight master the vocabulary and mechanics of robotics, the semester long project really begins to take shape.
Students are paired up to compete against each other in a motivating challenge to make the robots complete tasks they are programmed to accomplish.
“It is so much fun to see the kids get hooked on something they might not otherwise have access to and it teaches them to think in a new, computational way while applying science and math concepts they are learning from their core classes,” said Wisser.
“By teaching them how to set a goal and create a program that step by step makes the robots react, we are exposing students to experiences that translate into preparing them for the next phase of their lives,” Wisser said. “I tell my kids when I’m teaching that it’s so important for them to have opportunities like this because they can follow through into high school, college and even STEM-related careers.”
Wisser hopes to continue to expand his very popular club since there is currently a waiting list with more students clamoring to learn in the fun environment.
He highly recommends applying for the APS/Suns STEM grant as it was a quick and easy on-line application that is clearly paying dividends.
“I look forward to watching these students master techniques in our robotics club and am so pleased I get to guide them along the way,” Wisser said.