Elementary students learn advanced STEM skills to build robots

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A busy hallway of fourth- and fifth-graders carefully enter numbers into computers as their parents curiously watch. A few moments later, students beam as they see their robots come alive.

On Friday, May 22, families were invited to Nathaniel Hawthorne Elementary to interact with students who have completed engineering modules as part of the Nathaniel Hawthorne Nurturing Engineering with Robots, Discipline and Science after-school enrichment program. Students were challenged to program robots “on the fly,” said Alain Mota, math and science instructional coach.

Mota is teaching students advanced skills in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. The students learn how to build robots and make them move using Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 programming software. A total of 423 components must be assembled as part of the curriculum.

Mota said he wanted to give the students an opportunity to be exposed to STEM, including algebraic reasoning and experimental error, which will help prepare them for middle school. Mota reminds his students not to be afraid of what they don’t know and encourages them to find answers online instead of asking him.

“I tell the students, ‘engineers don’t have all the answers. What you need to do is learn from your mistakes and push each other,’” he said.

Fourth-grade student Arleth Escobedo and fifth-grade student Marco Ovalle both agree that working as a team keeps them motivated to do well.

“I can concentrate more because my friends are there to help,” Arleth said.

“I like to talk to my friends while I’m waiting for something to download or while we are waiting to build something,” Marco added. “They help me stay working.”

Andrea Ovalle, Marco’s mom, is already seeing the advantage of her child learning complex skills at an early age. She believes the knowledge he is learning now will prepare him for next school year at Alex W. Spence Talented and Gifted Academy.

“He’s into technology and science. So, it’s definitely pushed him further into what he wants to do when he gets older,” she said. “He wants to be a scientist when he grows up.”

Mota said he wants to train more teachers in the hopes of growing the enrichment program in the future.

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