September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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:

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 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.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

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

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.