They’re just small robotic vehicles, but they have power, including the power to make kids passionate about STEM subjects. Students at North Miami and Edison Park Middle Schools are designing, programming, and competing with Lego robots in an after-school program which is making a big impact, according to the grown-ups who run it.
“My hope is to create a cohort of students who are ready to go into the 21st century, ready to take any engineering class, any programming class and you know it is a need in this country,” said North Miami Middle School’s principal, Patrick Lacouty.
180 students are taking part in the brand-new, FIU-EV3 robotics program, which started in January. It’s an effort to get inner city kids, some of whom have no computers at home, immersed in technology.
“It’s a really interesting group of students that are participating in the program, they’re here all the time, always looking for new challenges, figuring it out, coding, creating new robots,” said Adly Norelus of FIU, who directs the program.
Norelus says they are off to a smashing start, and the robotics club has become so popular, it’s creating the good kind of peer pressure, the pressure to succeed, to innovate.
“Every single time, you’re gonna be like, how can I impress him or her?” said a sixth-grader named Jaelen.
The EV3 program doesn’t end with the school year. The kids will spend six weeks in the summer at FIU, continuing the learning with robots, combined with other science classes and regular summer camp fun. Ideally, sixth-graders in the program now will be in it for the next five years, as it expands.
“We want to follow these kids for 10 years,” said German Dulanto of Augmented Intelligence Academy, who is acting as a mentor and consultant to the program. “What has become of him because of this? Our project is a long-term vision, we want to see that the kid becomes an engineer or an inventor or a researcher or an entrepreneur.”
Did he just say “him”? No doubt, the girls in the program would be offended by that, especially since they outnumber the boys!
“The best part of this program is learning how to build the robot and learning technology and collaborating with each other,” said a student named Karen.
Nationally, there’s a debate going on in academic circles about how to attract more girls to STEM fields. Maybe programs like the FIU-EV3 project are the answer.