Authentic learning experiences

HARLINGEN – “Got the shark?” asked Aleena Briones.

Derek Espinoza, 10, pushed a container with a shark across the playing field toward Aleena, a fifth grader at Travis Elementary.

“The shark goes in here,” said Aleena, 11, pointing to the jagged arms sticking out of the robot in front of her. The playing field was a table top for the robot game missions presented by FIRST Lego League, a not-for-profit public charity. The organization designs innovative programs to promote science, technology, engineering and math in young people.

Aleena, Derek and three other members of the school’s robotics team are celebrating Robotics Week. Jesse Saldivar, assistant principal at Travis Elementary, said this is a district-wide initiative to recognize the importance of robotics.

“The goal is to promote STEM,” Saldivar said. “You have to teach them right now.”

Saldivar said the robotics activities were structured to teach students how robotics is used throughout the world.

Robotics help prepare children for the workforce, said Shane Strubhart, spokesperson for the school district.

“By giving kids these authentic learning experiences, it engages them at an early age in the STEM fields, which we are in great need of in the workforce,” Strubhart said.

Robotics is part of the STEM fields, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

“Robotics serves several purposes,” Strubhart said. “More things are becoming automated. It’s important that students learn how to create systems that are automated and learn how to maintain them.”

Strubhart many examples in the current job market prove the importance of robotics skills. Toyota in San Antonio is seeking employees skilled in robotics to work with automated systems.

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STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a not-for-profit public charity which designs accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math while building self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills.

FIRST includes four programs for students K-12:

FIRST Lego League Junior – real-world scientific challenges, learning teamwork, and working with motorized LEGO elements

FIRST Lego League Elementary and middle school-aged students research a real-world engineering challenge, develop a solution, and compete with LEGO-based robots of their own design

FIRST Tech Challenge Teams of middle and high school-aged students are challenged to design, build, and program a robot to play a floor game against other teams’ creations

FIRST Robotic Competition High school-aged teams compete head to head on a special playing field with robots they have designed, built, and programmed