|Take me out to the 'Botball' game: Robotics competitions fuels STEM interests|
The KISS Institute for Practical Robotics (KIPR) unleashed hundreds of robots in Norman at the recent Global Conference on Educational Robotics that brought 700 school aged software engineers from around the world to Oklahoma.
Students from elementary age to high school competed in an international robotics competition called “Botball,” in which autonomous robots they designed, built and programmed attempted to tackle the task of cleaning up a virtual “city” that had been ravaged by flooding.
While students saw Botball as a fun and challenging competition, the KIPR Institute describes it as a “standards-based” STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education program.
“What is awesome about Botball, I have students that are writing code and doing all of this in the third grade,” said Steve Goodgame, executive director of the KIPR Institute. “I had a college student who came in earlier and said he was working with the elementary students and ‘my gosh, that’s what I was doing as a freshman in college and these third graders are doing it.’”
The KIPR Institute hosts STEM events throughout the year and regional Botball competitions from which top teams qualify for the International competition.
The Institute has a mission to improve the public’s understanding of STEM and “develop the skills, character and aspirations of students” while contributing to the enrichment of schools and the community.
Teams from Canada, Mexico, Qatar, Kuwait, China, Poland, Austria, Africa, Taiwan and across the United States came to Norman for this year’s event, which also included an aerial drone competition and international keynote speakers.
Of course, there’s a bottom line to all the Botball fun. And that’s the acquisition of STEM skills that help create a workforce prepared for the career demands of the future.
“We are teaching a bunch of skills they can put in their tool box that they can use when they start innovating new companies, new ideas and new technologies,” Goodgame said. “It’s imperative that we as a state prepare our younger students as they age up and get these skills so we have a talented workforce that understands computer science.”
For Gillian Melendez, a 16-year-old junior-to-be from Xavier College Prep in Coachella Valley, Calif., the international Botball experience provided the opportunity to meet like-minded students from around the world and pursue her interest in software coding.
“I started when I was in sixth grade and I fell in love with it,” Melendez said. “Most girls aren’t into robotics because it’s nerdy, but I fell in love. I love to code.”
Melendez was one of two girls on the six-person “G-Force” team from Coachilla Valley.
Norman native Braden McDorman is Exhibit A that Botball is an effective strategy for building STEM skills. McDorman began competing in Botball in middle school, and today is co-founder and chief technology officer of a robotics software startup called Semio. “I started Botball in sixth grade at Whittier Middle School and did it all through high school,” McDorman said. “Then I got an internship at KIPR working on software in high school and continued while I was working on my undergraduate degree at OU.”
McDorman’s path took him to the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics in high school and then on to a computer science degree at the University of Oklahoma. He also serves as a KIPR instructor for regional Botball competitions in Southern California, and co-founded Los Angeles-based Semio with another Botball alumnus.
“I’m working on a startup all because of Botball, actually,” McDorman said. “It’s a game that teaches everything you need to know to do real science, real programming. It’s the perfect way to prepare for a career in STEM.”
|PICKING UP SIGNALS
Student wins honors with robot prosthetic
Emily Haas flexed her bicep, and the fingers on a purple plastic robotic hand sitting on a table before her flexed as well. She did it again. Bicep flexed. Fingers flexed.
Her audience wanted to see it again. And again.
Haas, a 16-year-old junior at Deer Creek High School was demonstrating what is known as a myoelectric prosthetic. The robotic hand responds to electric signals detected in muscle movement in Haas’s arm and translates them into movement in its prosthetic fingers.
My colleague, Debbie Cox from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), and I watched the demonstration in amazement.
We learned that Haas built the entire project from scratch and won the national SkillsUSA Principles of Engineering & Technology competition earlier this year.
It all began, she said, when she was a middle school student who entered a robotics competition that sparked her love of STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“I knew that I wanted to help people from a physical therapy standpoint, and I also knew that I wanted to do robotics,” she said. “So, those two came together to become prosthetics, and I’ve just been really passionate about it ever since.”
Last year, Haas was a first-year student in the Pre-Engineering Academy at Francis Tuttle Technology Center’s Portland campus. She wanted to tackle a project for the SkillsUSA engineering competition.
Francis Tuttle Pre-Engineering Academy instructor Brad Sanders suggested the prosthetic project.
“I knew that she was interested in prosthetics through talking with her in class last year,” Sanders said. “So, I threw out the idea and really encouraged her to build a prosthetic, connect it to the nervous system.”
Haas jumped into the project, first with extensive research that included watching videos and reading scholarly studies on myoelectric prosthetics. She printed the hand on a 3-D printer at Francis Tuttle, then engineered the static plastic prosthetic into a dynamic hand in which the fingers could contract.
And when it finally worked?“I have a video on my phone of me about 5 minutes after it started working,” she said. “You can definitely tell that I was very, very excited.”
Haas wrote an 8-page paper about the hand, which was submitted as part of the SkillsUSA competition. She won the state competition in April and followed that with a first place national finish in June in Louisville, Ky.
Haas sees herself designing and building prosthetics, possibly in her own company some day. She already has been invited to serve an internship at Scott Sabolich Prosthetics.
“I hope this leads to my own career,” she said. “I hope to create a business where we are focused on helping people regain their mobility and regain the ability to live on their own and the freedom that could have with that.”
She’s laying the groundwork for that career at the pre-engineering academy at Francis Tuttle.
“One of the best decisions I ever made was to be here at Francis Tuttle and involved in STEM,” she said.
|DUNCAN AREA YOUTH ENGINEERING CONTEST|
For hundreds of middle and high school students from schools in the Red River Technology Center district, the recent CO2 car race competition at the Duncan Area Youth Engineering Contest was all about the need for speed.
From the perspective of the event’s organizers at the Duncan Area Economic Development Foundation, the annual competition is a not-so-subtle attempt to generate interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) among area students.
Students learned problem-solving skills as they overcame engineering challenges to build a competitive CO2-powered race car out of a block of wood, said Lyle Roggow, president of the Duncan Area Economic Development Foundation.
“We give each student and their teacher the instructions and rules to go along with the kit,” Roggow said. “What we’re trying to do is get them exposed to engineering and STEM occupations.”
At the recent competition at Duncan Middle School, young car builders from schools in the Red River Technology Center affiliated school districts crowded into bleachers in the gymnasium to watch their creations race down a 90-foot track. The 2018 participating schools were Duncan, Marlow, Bray, Central, Walters and Empire.
The fastest cars shot down the track in one second or less each, powered by CO2 cartridges.
Dozens of volunteers, many of them engineers from Duncan area companies, shuttled cars to and from the race track as they competed in heats, two cars at a time. Some cars were painted bright colors and carved into unique shapes, including one that was fashioned into a No. 2 pencil design.
Cash prizes were awarded to the fastest car, for engineering and overall performance. A “People’s Choice” award was chosen by the students.
So, perhaps it was no surprise that the overall winner was a pre-engineering student. Gavin Banks, 18, is a Marlow High School senior who participates in the Red River Technology Center’s pre-engineering academy.
Banks won the engineering competition, and his “X-wing”-themed car finished second in the race itself from among hundreds of entrants.
“If you are interested in engineering or anything STEM related, this competition teaches you a lot about math, with all the measurements that go into it,” said Banks, who plans to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering at Oklahoma Christian University.
It was mission accomplished for both Gavin Banks and the Duncan Area Youth Engineering Contest.
|GE SUMMER SCIENCE ACADEMY|
Inside a science laboratory on the campus of the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics (OSSM), teams of students attempt to connect syringes to plastic tubing and canisters filled with vegetable oil and coffee grounds.
They are participating in an oil and gas extraction competition as part of the GE Summer Science Academy this week, which brought 62 students from 35 communities across Oklahoma to the OSSM campus in the heart of Oklahoma City.
The oil extraction challenge emulates real life challenges of the oil and gas industry as campers try to successfully engineer ways to lift the oil from a canister on the ground to a reservoir on a table using tools like syringes, tubing and even balloons.
“You have to try in multiple different ways,” said Sophie Fosmire, a junior-to-be at Kremlin-Hillsdale High School north of Enid. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it doesn’t always work the second time even if it worked the first time. It’s frustrating and challenging – and I like that.”
The GE Summer Science Academy was sponsored by the GE Foundation as part of a $400,000 STEM initiative established in partnership with the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST). The academy provides a residential experience for students who pursue a week of academic classes, field trips and challenging competitions.
Camp activities are focused on creating interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), said Nick Drenzek, a senior scientist at the energy innovation center operated by Baker Hughes, a GE company, and located across the street from the OSSM campus.
“It’s very important for us to do this because these kids are the future work force for Oklahoma, and STEM is critically important to us to seed our next generation work force so we can develop the new technology that oil and gas needs,” Drenzek said. “I want the campers to take away a passion for the challenges we face every single day in oil and gas.”
Isabella Cosby, a rising junior from Bethel High School near Shawnee, said she will remember the positive campus atmosphere and diversity of fellow students attending the camp.
“The teachers are so empowering,” she said. “And they make it seem easier to understand than previous classes I’ve taken. I finally got something today in my math class, like ‘oh, that makes sense now.’ ”
The camp serves both as a recruiting tool for the school of science and math and a week-long exposure to challenging academic concepts for campers, said Brent Richards, a professor of biology at OSSM and camp director.
“It’s a way for kids who come from school districts all over the state to get some exposure to advanced science and math – just a taste of it – they might not get otherwise,” Richards said. “It’s a program we are really proud of.”
|SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY MONTH|
The Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology sponsors Science and Technology Month in April as an opportunity to promote education in science and technology related courses while also emphasizing the importance of these fields to the Oklahoma economy.
The annual event is designed to showcase Oklahoma’s outstanding students who excel in STEM or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Students from each of Oklahoma’s 77 counties have been recognized during the special observance since its inception 25 years ago.
Teachers across the state are encouraged to nominate their outstanding STEM students for a Science and Technology Award signed by Governor Mary Fallin and OCAST executive director, Michael Carolina. For more information about Science and Technology Month in Oklahoma, contact OCAST at 405-319-8400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Submit names for the 2018 Science and Technology Month student recognition certificates by using the form below.
|OKLAHOMA ENGINEERING FAIR|