Exploring Technology through Robotics

As Dorothy said, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

I might have the same reaction as I enter Visalia Unified’s new elective course at the middle school level, Exploring Technology. The new course provides students the opportunity to explore technology in fun, innovative ways, beginning with a semester-long experience with the Lego Mindstorms Robotic Programs. You may have read recently about students in the Silicon Valley having these opportunities, but VUSD is one of the first in the Central Valley to receive the newly released EV3 Robotic platform.

Visalia Unified is committed to developing a strong STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program; and we started at the middle school level with the intent of creating pathways to the high school in more advanced technology, engineering and design.

The course curriculum is structured around open-ended, problem-solving activities that contain three main components.

The Make It Move component challenges students to build robots using math and science skills that are able to measure distance and speed, move without using wheels, and maximize power to move up an incline. In the second component, Make it Smarter, students will add sensors to their robots that measure ambient and reflected light, distinguish specific colors, measure distance to an object, recognize touch and measure rate of change. The last component, Make a System, further increases the complexity of the tasks the robots can perform, such as moving a ball, picking up and placing objects within a field, simulating manufacturing, and communicating their locations by using the idea of systems within a system.

The course is one of the first to be built around the new Common Core State Standards, which encourages creative thinking, problem solving, teamwork and communication skills. The second semester activities include design engineering learned in the first semester, extended activities in energy and the environment, flight and space, green architecture and the medical field. The program is also connected to afterschool for students wishing to continue to explore and expand their learning with robotics.

Finally, Visalia Unified is excited to announce that all four middle schools will be represented in this year’s First Lego League Challenge, Nature’s Fury. Over 200,000 students (ages 9-16) and 70-plus countries will strive to find solutions for the challenge of what happens when natural disasters meet people in places they live, work and play.

So when Dorothy sees what is going on at our middle schools, she will say, “We’re not in Kansas. We must be in Visalia, and it feels like home … ‘there is no place like home!’”

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