By ROB W. ANDERSON
To say the Education Edubots at Northeastern State University began as underdogs is an understatement.
They were an all-female team of four teacher candidates in a college world championship robotics competition against multi-membered teams like the PR Institute of Robotics in Puerto Rico, the New York Institute of Technology, North American Robotics in Philadelphia, and the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation in Saudi Arabia, to name a few.
The 2013 VEX Robotics College Challenge World Championship held in Anaheim, Calif., two months ago was a gathering of top robotics teams from around the globe that pitted the future’s best scientists and engineers against one another in designing and constructing robots on site to accomplish tasks like placing a bean bag in a goal.
The Northeastern State University College of Education Edubots team of Wilburton junior Laura Myers, Cushing junior Megan Bloom, Westville junior Tandy Morris and Afton junior Savanna Atchison came together as a collaborating group in January. They began constructing their first robot and qualified for the Vex Robotics championship in February, and by the April event, had earned the competition’s Judges’ Trophy while finishing 44th in a field of 52 teams.
Aside from being the only education majors in the competition, NSU’s Edubots team was facing teams that included 15 or more members made up of male and female engineering or science majors who played specific roles, said Myers.
“This was our way, as teacher education majors, to stand up and let the world know that we’re not afraid of a challenge. Robotics is something education majors don’t normally do. We stepped outside of our comfort zone,” said Myers. “It was a great way to gain experience and knowledge. That experience will be something we can take back to our classrooms to teach students why it’s important to experience new risks and learn new things.”
The NSU Robotics in Education program was started in November 2012, and the College of Education curriculum will make it possible for teacher candidates to learn how they can apply robotics in the classroom. The NSU College of Education robotics students will visit area schools to observe the use of robot technology in classrooms and study how it can be incorporated into daily lesson planning.
Educational Foundation Leadership Instructor and Faculty Adviser Barbara Fuller said the program collaborated with the Cherokee Nation and Sequoyah High School Robotics Instructor Dr. Calvin Cole to get the Edubots team up and running.
“We’re always looking for new ways to incorporate technology into the classroom. It’s really has the students’ interests,” said Fuller.
“We made the goal to put this into our program. This fall, every single teacher candidate is going to graduate knowing how to implement robotics into their classroom, no matter what they’re teaching.”
The NSU Edubots team qualified for the international competition at the VEX Robotics Regional event hosted by Sequoyah Schools. Fuller said the inclusion of robotics in a classroom will foster critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and leadership. Robotics presents a learning experience that will benefit everyone.
“When you think about robotics, you do think about mathematics, and you do think about engineering. It’s easy to forget, but if you look at robotics in the right light, you can see that everyone can do it. It’s easy to be intimidated by it,” said Fuller.
“One of the greatest things that came out this experience was everyone on the team has a different major, and they all found a way to work robotics into their current focus of study. It’s just a testament that it’s not just about engineering or mathematics. It’s really about learning to use those critical thinking and problem solving skills. Anybody can do it.”
Atchison said the team visited a group of students at Heritage Elementary to introduce robotics to the kids, and the results were eye-opening. The students were placed on teams, given tools, and had two working robots and two broken robots to use for the hands-on learning experience. The goal was to fix the broken robots.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” said Atchison.
“We wanted to see if the kids could use critical-thinking skills to figure out how to fix the problem It was amazing to see the difference in how our minds work in seeing a way to solve a problem and seeing how their minds work. Within the hour, they had fixed the problem.
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