The robots have come to school! Options for STEAM exploration are expanding at Calhoun through the introduction of robotics courses. Excitement is growing for the program as students roll up their sleeves and dive into cutting-edge technology.
“In robotics, students engage with multiple aspects of STEAM learning engineering, coding, programming, math and science,” says teacher Susan Ma, who helped launch a robotics elective in the Upper School this year. A similar elective in the Middle School, taught by Katie Yang, began during the 2021–22 school year, following a successful run as a summer camp. These elective options build upon some early forays into the subject in the Lower School.
For Calhoun’s budding engineers, delving into robotics starts with developing a firm foundation in coding, with assignments tailored to accommodate different levels of familiarity. In the Upper School, students new to coding learn to read block-based codes and perform simple coding tasks, while more experienced students use a program like Scratch to create an entire game or digital story. Coding tasks are similarly scaffolded for Middle Schoolers: All students in the class receive basic codes to test, but students who took the class last year are encouraged to further refine the codes to make them more efficient.
With a solid grasp of coding under their belts, students begin to construct their robots. Once the robots are assembled, students tackle a series of progressively difficult tasks as they learn to program and maneuver the robots. Each challenge adds a new layer of complexity, from racing robots through a maze or competing in games of robot freeze tag in Middle School, to the culminating experience for Upper Schoolers of navigating robots through a labyrinthine obstacle course that students build themselves.
While learning to make a robot transport an object or compete in a game of robot soccer is a lot of fun, the robotics courses also strengthen a wide range of skills. Beyond the technical and mathematical components, students become better collaborators as they work together in small groups to build and program the robots. Robotics can often mirror some of the same team-building that happens in sports, with students learning to communicate effectively with one another and develop empathy to understand how someone else approaches a problem.
Another invaluable lesson comes from the problem-solving and resilience inherent to coding. “An important part of mastering engineering is being able to keep going until you succeed,” says Katie. “I always tell students that your code will fail 100 times, but what matters is the 101st time, [when] it works.” The persistence that students develop through this iterative process is something they can apply to any future challenge.
While the robotics program is still in its early stages, momentum is building and considering the way Calhouners have embraced this new opportunity, there’s no telling where their innovation might lead them!