May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Starting a Robotics Club with Students at the Helm

Posted: Monday, November 4th, 2013

by Tamara Araya

It all started off with an email forwarded from my principal and it read, “Any of you interested in starting a robotics team?  If so, respond to the email below.”  The attached email was from a district employee, Kathy, whose husband and son recently started a robotics club at their high school.  The email asked, “Why hasn’t anyone started a robotics club in our district?”  There are six major high schools in our district and not one had a robotics club, so I naively replied with great enthusiasm, “I would love to!”  Did I mention that I have a biology credential and absolutely no robotics background what so ever? 

That weekend I met with Kathy and her husband at the Los Angeles Regional FIRST Robotics Competition and got to see firsthand what they were so enthusiastic about.  I was in shock.  Never have I witnessed so many students working, laughing, chanting, and crazy about a project like this one.  The support by parents and businesses was nothing I had seen before. This was more than just a group of students interested in computer programming, it was a team of grant writers, fundraisers, accountants, graphic designers, engineers and business people all working together as a team.  I fell in love.

Inspired to include more STEM in my classroom, earlier that month had I transformed my electricity and magnetism unit in my physical science class into a project-based unit where the students built a remote-operated submersible that completed different tasks in the school pool.  I found the project to be stressful and unpredictable. With this experience was fresh in my mind,  I considered Kathy’s question about why no one had started a robotics club in our district.  Is it because of the lack of money, materials, knowledge or time that drives so many teachers away from completing such a task?  I knew I didn’t want another project where I put more time into it than the students, where I would be organizing the meetings and keeping the team going.  I had so much on my plate already.  I am a mother of two young children, an advisor for the solar boat club and was teaching an extra hourly.  The idea of leading another project was just not possible, especially a robotics club.  However, after seeing so many students interested and engaged at the robotics competition, how could I say no?  I told myself it would have to be run and organized by the students and that I would be there to mentor and help find support when needed.  I think this has been the best decision I have ever made.

The students came to the first meeting and immediately started organizing and dispersing tasks to discover what is involved in a robotics club.  From there forward they met once a week to share information about what they found during their research and soon the club was formed.  The natural leaders began to take charge of the meetings and others followed without hesitation.  As we met during the summer to work on robotics, students found their strengths and started running committees.  I supported the students by giving them a room to work in and found mentors from local business and universities to guide the student questions and projects.  Although I could not help answer technical questions, I was good at helping them find the people who could.

Having a student driven club is no easy task.  Most students are naturally unorganized and they have a hard time seeing the future.  They are inexperienced at working with adults and the real world.  But one thing they are good at is getting back on their feet when they fail, and they bring a big desire to learn.  With positive reinforcement, self-reflections and constant critique, students are learning and adapting to their environment.

Open ended and thought provoking problems are often areas of instruction that are difficult to cover in a science class assignment.  Clubs like these give students the opportunity to experience these types of problems on a daily basis.  Students walk away from this experience with leadership skills, improved critical thinking and real life application that no science class assignment comes close to offering.  It is for these reasons that I stepped out of my comfort zone and started the first ever student run robotics club at my school.

My students’ goal is to win, but I have more in mind for them.  I want them to experience an engineering business first-hand and understand how it takes many different types of people to make a project happen.  I want them to experience leading and learning from their mistakes.  I want them feeling safe to try something new and know how to ask for help when needed.  No matter how we do in the FIRST Competition, the students are already showing me, and themselves, that they have met these goals.

Tamara Araya is a CSTA member. She teaches at Long Beach Poly High School. 

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or zi@cascience.org.)

New Information Now Available On-line:

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.