Virtual Academy Students Build Robots in Person to Develop Group Problem-Solving Skills

Indiana students practice teamwork, patience in robot project.

by Megan Erbacher, Evansville Courier & Press, Ind. / March 9, 2017 0
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(TNS) — It was a happy accident, but Ayana Pender screamed with joy Wednesday morning as the LEGO robot she and her teammates were building finally seemed to do the trick.

"Mrs. Burns, we figured it out," Pender yelled across the room. "I'm so happy."

Pender was one of about 15 Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. Virtual Academy students working in teams on Wednesday to build robots. The students, who normally complete schoolwork on the computer, have gathered each Wednesday for about a month to work on the STEM-based (science, technology, engineering and math) project.

A handful of students will showcase their work from 4-7 p.m. Thursday at the 10th annual PEF Technology, Innovation & Collaboration Showcase at Ivy Tech Community College Southwest, 3501 N First Avenue.

Just minutes before Team Sleep's robot completed the programmed task, Pender admitted the robot wasn't working correctly.

"We put in a program and it's not working or going right," she said. "So we're just going to skip that program and we're going to come back to it later."

Team Sleep is made up of Pender, Joshua Tenbarge and James Meece. A sixth grader, Pender, 12, said she is the group's programmer, Tenbarge is the "parts monkey," and Meece is the builder.

A first grader, Tenbarge, 7, enjoys playing with LEGOs at home.

"There are multiple pieces (for the robot) and I'm trying to figure out how to put them together so we can connect them," he said. "There are some pretty hard pieces. My first day I didn't really do anything."

"I did most of it because he couldn't figure it out," Pender said. "Sometimes you need somebody like that to help you."

EVSC's Virtual Academy officials purchased five LEGO MINDSTORMS Education EV3 core sets with a $2,600 Rotary/PEF/Love Foundation classroom grant.

In addition to building the robot, EVSC Virtual Academy Director Janet Leistner said students will complete research projects explaining the process to build it and the outcomes.

"It gets the kids working together," Leistner said. "They don't see each other every day because they're working on school at home and coming in individually, but this has them work as a team so they get to know each other. It's been very successful."

Jo Burns, Virtual Academy K-8 teacher, wrote the grant for the robot kits. Burns has been an educator with the EVSC for 36 years, the last three being at the Virtual Academy. She said she has always enjoyed technology.

"We tried to think of a way to bring these kids together for them to actually work, and so they would enjoy the interaction," she said.

Burns said students still need to sharpen social skills with their peers.

"They problem solve," she said. "That's what's really neat to see. They figure it out among their teams."

Through the project, Pender said she's learned teamwork and patience.

"I love being around my friends," she said. "When you don't go to public school you're not around them. I really love doing things, being around my teachers, principal and all of my friends."

©2017 the Evansville Courier & Press (Evansville, Ind.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.