Robotics Unit Teaches Life skills

OTTUMWA— Fifth graders in Mrs. Adams class at James Elementary hosted a Project Lead The Way (PLTW) Showcase today for parents, community members, and Iowa STEM representatives. The event culminated approximately 10-weeks of learning about robots and programming.

This is the second year Project Lead The Way has been a part of Ottumwa’s fifth grade science curriculum. For Adams, she learned right along with her students. Last year her students only completed the first module, building a remote-controlled robot. This year she added the second module, programming. “It’s intense,” she said. “It’s the real thing.”

She divided her class into teams of three. Each day, each team member had a different role, either as the leader/recorder, iPad person, or engineer. Not only did students learn about robots and programming, they learned important life skills such as problem-solving, collaboration, and working together as a team. “The activity has taught me what true collaboration is,” Adams said. “Students learned patience, along with trial and error. It can be frustrating but they feel success when things work the way they planned.”

Renton Robnett, a fifth grader, loves programming. His only previous experience was participating in Hour of Code, a national day set aside to encourage coding each year.  “When you keep getting something wrong so many times—when you get it right, it’s incredible,” he said. Robnett learned a lot about the dynamics of working together as a team. “Normally our team got along but sometimes we didn’t,” he said. “You have to use everyone’s ideas and make it into one.”

Adams attended training at the University of Iowa for PLTW’s elementary program, Launch. “PLTW changes how you teach. It’s all about problem-solving,” she said. The program focuses on the work being student-directed. “Students have the most important role in PLTW but the same can be true in reading, math, and social studies.”  The teacher acts as facilitator. “It’s hard for students,” she said. “They wanted to ask questions but I told them to go back and look at the directions.”

She enjoys technology and that helped since she had no prior knowledge of robotics or programming. “I had to be a hands-on learner too,” she said.

What is amazing to Adams are the “ah ha” moments. Students would all-of-a-sudden figure something out during another part of the instructional day. “They were really wrapped up in their projects,” she said.

Not all students are interested in robotics and programming but Adams feels all students learned important life skills. “They have taught me a lot,” she said.

Erinne Mendibles, another fifth grader, thought programming was a challenge but liked building. “Programming makes sense but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” said Mendibles. “Building is fun.”

Students held a mock showcase earlier in the week for fourth graders. It provided an opportunity for the fifth graders to practice and also introduces PLTW to students coming up. Fifth grader, Kaden Potter, was nervous about the showcase. Programming was his favorite part. “ I’ll be a better programmer,” he said of his experience. He hopes to design video games when he grows up.

“Students saw their hard work come to life,” she said. This will be something she continues to do each year.