Walk into any St. Vrain robotics program – be it after-school clubs at the elementary level, secondary classes, or competitive tournaments – and you will be immediately struck by captivated engagement. Students (and teachers) are busily and eagerly developing knowledge and skills in computer science, coding, engineering, design and technology, mathematics, and more. What’s more, they’re working together as creative thinkers, reflective learners, team players, and self-managers.
“Robotics is an integrated field,” says Axel Reitzig, coordinator of innovation at the Innovation Center of St. Vrain Valley Schools. “It has immeasurable impact in helping our overall STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) initiative, providing a wealth of integrative experiences. Through robotics, students gain transformative experiences as they see how language arts relates to math, which relates to science. It really has no limits.”
Reitzig was one of several early adopters who recognized the potential of robotics six years ago, confident that it would take off. “It just made sense,” he says. “A lot of things come together by doing robotics. It’s very experiential.” “Everything is connected,” adds Alexandra Downing, STEM Coordinator at Indian Peaks Elementary School, and VEX Robotics Program Manager at the Innovation Center. “Teams of students work together to build a robot around specific parameters; they use design-thinking and write down their process in their engineering notebooks. Teachers can see skills they’re using carried over into the classroom. They’re communicating at a higher level.
Since its inception, robotics programming and participation in St. Vrain have grown at staggering rates. From an initial five schools offering the after-school club, there are now competitive VEX robotics teams, spanning grades 2-12, at almost all district schools. The district also supports robotics by hosting tournaments, opportunities for students to test their robots and interact with other teams in a competitive environment. This year, the district will host 12 tournaments, as well as two state tournaments. “Tournaments are opportunities for authentic engineering and feedback,” Reitzig says. “They’re very challenging, requiring teams to rely on skill and teamwork. The real draw is to earn the opportunity to go to the state championship, and then qualify for the World Championships.”
Over the last six years, St. Vrain teams have consistently qualified for World Championships, finishing as high as second and third place.
Robotics engages students beginning in the early grades, and spans their educational career. Older students have opportunities to mentor clubs, run tournaments, and choose from an increasing range of classes integrating robotics in secondary schools. “The VEX program is not only a great entry point and community builder, it’s also a stepping stone,” Reitzig says. “What we see happening more throughout the district is that kids are more aware of opportunities, and that interest and awareness drives future programs we’re developing, like aeronautics, underwater robotics, and more. The current and future workforce demands education rooted in traditional academics while leveraging modern technology and advanced learning. Robotics is building that talent pipeline, equipping students with skills they need for the future, whether they go into a related field or not.
Students aren’t the only ones continuously growing through the creative challenges and demands offered by robotics. “Robotics is a disruptive part of technology for education,” Reitzig says. “It forces us as educators to change how we practice. It’s more student-directed, authentic, and hands-on. There’s constant problem-solving and change that keeps everyone stretching their limits and collaborating.”
2019 Future-Ready Robotics Showcase
Saturday, November 16
10 am-2 pm
Village at the Peaks
See St. Vrain robotics in action at the upcoming 2019 Future-Ready Robotics Showcase, planned for Saturday, November 16 at Village at the Peaks from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event includes the district’s ST. VRAINNOVATION Future-Ready Innovation Lab, which will be on-site providing a variety of blended experiences organized around how robots sense, think, and act within their environment. There will further be student-led stations to provide visitors with hands-on robotics experiences for the whole family.
The Robotics Showcase will also be a celebration, and a thank you to the community. “Robotics is growing so much because of everyone’s support,” Reitzig says. “It’s because of our district as a whole recognizing the value from the beginning. It’s Community Schools being such a strong sponsor at the elementary level. It’s district partners promoting volunteers and mentors, and sometimes offering funding. It’s parents supporting and enjoying this, appreciating this is a sport. It’s student dedication. It’s a celebration for everybody.”