Curriculum and Instruction

Clarkson University

The goal of the proposed effort is to pilot a FIRST* Vex Challenge robotics program within St. Lawrence County that leverages Clarkson University's existing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) outreach efforts and partnerships within the North Country via design programs that: Identify and develop exemplary STEM teachers in the K-8 classrooms; Bring teachers of mathematics and science into contact with working scientists, mathematicians, and engineers; Allow experienced STEM teachers to provide professional development to other STEM teachers; Establish summer professional development institutes, as defined in No Child Left Behind, Title II, Part B, Sections 2201(b)(2) and 2002 (c)(3); Elevate the importance of STEM teaching; and Improve subject matter knowledge and strong teaching skills of STEM teachers, including integrating reliable scientifically-based or evidence-based teaching methods and technology-based teaching methods into the curriculum.

The FIRST Vex Challenge (FVC) is an international, mid-level robotics competition for students that offers the challenge of a robotics competition with an affordable robotics kit of parts, called Vex. The Challenge is an annually changing game which is revealed by FIRST each September and conducted with robotic "players" competing in a series of fast-paced, two-minute matches. Teams must determine their strategy and then build, program, and test their robot in competition against other teams. Working through the engineering process brings the reality of STEM to students on a more intimate, hands-on level while building teamwork skills. Teams are comprised of an adult coach (e.g., a school teacher), mentors (e.g., technology professionals, professors, college students) and a maximum of 10 middle school students.

The proposed workshop curriculum maps FVC activities onto various Performance Indicators associated with NYS MST Standards 1-7, e.g., Standard 1, Key Idea 1 (Engineering Design):

  • consider constraints and generate several ideas for alternative solutions, using group and individual ideation techniques (group discussion, brainstorming, forced connections, role play); defer judgment until a number of ideas have been generated; evaluate (critique) ideas; and explain why the chosen solution is optimal.
  • develop plans, including drawings with measurements and details of construction, and construct a model of the solution, exhibiting a degree of craftsmanship.
  • in a group setting, test their solution against design specifications, present and evaluate results, describe how the solution might have been modified for different or better results, and discuss tradeoffs that might have to be made.

Currently no professional development is available to teachers interested in FVC in St. Lawrence County and there are no local tournaments. The proposed workshop, conducted from July 23 to August 3, 2007 half-time on the Clarkson campus, will provide comprehensive FVC training for ten participating middle school teachers. The workshop consists of a series of mini-projects and culminates with teachers engaging in a design challenge, just as the FVC students do. Participants will also be evaluated on their ability to document their knowledge gained using an engineering notebook and in an end-of-workshop review of their robot design. They are also expected to serve as coaches for FVC teams in their schools during the fall 2007 semester with the workshop instructors and undergraduate students from Clarkson University's FIRST Robotics team serving as team mentors. The proposed pilot program offers a dynamic, innovative way to expose middle school students to STEM concepts through "hands-on" robotic investigations.

*FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a Manchester, NH based not-for-profit public charity that designs accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in STEM fields, while building self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills.

Contact: Dr. James Carroll jcarroll@clarkson.edu

Last Updated: June 17, 2009