How STEP fits into the Big picture
STEP is only one of the Brazos Robotics programs. We also have classes, workshops, clubs, summer camps, blogs, and an online journal for student publication. To understand some of the peculiar decisions we’ve made in designing STEP, you need to know how STEP fits into the bigger picture. It’s all part of our STEPpING Stones Vision.
The various Brazos Robotics programs all fit together to meet students where they are and walk them down the STEP educational path.
Historically, robotics competitions have been designed to target only a part of our student population. It makes sense. After all, whatever technology we choose to build our robots from will have some practical lower age limit. There is no practical way to have a competition between experienced high school students and fledgling elementary students. So, lower age groups are left out of the target “impact zone” until someone comes along and develops hardware, software, and techniques for those age groups. There are certainly some good products out there for just about every age group. But, this fragmentation between programs leaves much to be desired. It leaves an ugly splattering of impact across geographic boundaries and age groups. It leaves vast segments of our population unreached. And it generates considerable administrative redundancy across the non-profits seeking to have a positive impact.
The STEPpING Stones initiative makes the simple presupposition that “participating in” and “benefiting from” a youth robotics competition are not the same thing. We refuse to believe that participants automatically benefit. And, we proudly realize that we can leverage the excitement of the competition to instigate real impact in the spectator population.
Yes, we dare believe that we can use a youth robotics competition (proven to have impact on middle school and high school students) to intrigue and inspire young spectators.
But, we are not so naive as to believe simply attending an event will serve the purpose of making a deep impact. STEPpING Stones represents the volition to instigate an early-age exposure to STEP, nurture the intrigue with regular engagements until, eventually, they can experience an immersive real-world experience. The vision is only completed when we teach each generation the importance of investing in the next generation of STEP professionals.
How It Works
Step 1: Manage Early-Age Encounters to Inspire Additional Investigation
In our society, kids are surrounded by technology that previous generations couldn’t imagine. Much of it may be taken for granted. However, there come times when the technology is so striking that it demands our attention and we pause with intrigue. That moment is a decision point. At this first encounter with truly novel technology we make a choice. First, if the technology is far removed from our present preoccupation, then the average person gawks in surprise, giggles a bit, and registers it in our “street-magic” library of things to ponder later. Second, if we glimpse behind the curtain and see things we have previously filed in our “way above my head” file, then we simply add this new technology to that file which we never intend to investigate. However, if we have already cleared our schedule for a guided tour of this new technology, then we are much more likely to let “initial intrigue” lead us to something more.
The first STEPpING stone is to instigate an early-age glimpse behind the curtain before preconceptions are made about self-efficacy in STEP. The Brazos Robotics Mobile Education Unit (MEU) brings technology into elementary schools. Here, students feel safe and are accustomed to integrating knew ideas. By carefully managing the environment and content we can greatly increase the chances that “first encounters” go beyond intrigue and lure students to investigate further. The MEU content is designed to guard three essential attributes for success:
- The encounter must be fun.
- The students must be convinced that they are capable of succeeding in the new pursuit.
- The new technology must facilitate natural transition from age-appropriate technology to real-world technology later.
Step 2: Capitalize on Initial Intrigue to Encourage Further Investigation
Early-age learners will not necessarily be able to investigate modern technology on their own. For most learners science, technology, engineering, and math are challenging. Without an established track record of success, novice learners are easily deterred. The initial encounter should be quickly followed with guided activities which reward the students’ pursuit. Brazos Robotics follow up curriculum provides simple classroom activities to begin building students’ self-efficacy in engineering and high-technology.
Step 3: Engage with Hands-On Experiences
After a well managed early-age encounter, students have a better chance at making informed decisions regarding their interest in STEP. Not all students will be interested. Further, being not-interested now doesn’t preclude interest forming after later encounters. In fact, managing this first encounter is likely to make all future encounters less threatening. For those interested students, we should make sure to engage them quickly. Attention spans are short and young students are exploring many different directions. Brazos Robotics offers our Hands-On Project series to engage and reward young learners.
Step 4: Expand and Deepen Experiences
At this point the student is sufficiently motivated for self-directed learning. However, it is important that the young learner not be allowed to exhaust the age-appropriate resources in an area of interest. If so, the student may begin to apply labels such as stale, stagnant…boring! Experiences need to grow in scope, challenge, and complexity. Each gradually bringing the student into the next-age community of learners, users, and practitioners.
Step 5: Immerse in Real-World Simulations
The ultimate goal is that students become life-long learners in the professional community. But, there’s a long road between the first encounter and the practicing STEP professional. As with developing athletes, we need to nurture interest with actual “play time.” None would expect kids to maintain interest in a sport where they never actually played. Imagine studying the rules, running drills, and strength training but never getting actually suiting up. If we want to nurture interest in STEP, we need to let them play. We must provide real-world simulations for them to grow in. The STEP Robotics Competition is their opportunity to play. We’ve carefully designed STEP for students to broadly experience science, technology, engineering, and programming. Unlike other opportunities, STEP invites students to do market research, design, build, refine, and market an engineered product. STEP intentionally integrates science and programming into the challenge. It’s an opportunity for middle school and high school aged students to actually “play.” However, equally important, it is an opportunity for them to begin to invest in the next generation.
Step 6: Building Academic Foundations
Of course, it is not enough for athletes to simply play the game. Practices and drills are essential for developing new skills. Professional disciplines related to STEP are all challenging. It takes rigorous study to complete the formal training that is the most common path to a practicing professional. That course of study can be made much easier if students begin with a firm foundation. The college prerequisites are already present in standardized curriculum. However, the context is often missing. Without context, the motive to learn often suffers. The EST Foundations curriculum specifically aims to associate diverse academic constructs from physics, math, and communication with the excitement of competitive engineering competition. It is a near turn-key curriculum for teachers to deploy when mentoring students in robotics competitions.
Step 7: Investing in the Next Generation
Our goals cannot stop with preparing a generation of engineers and scientists to solve current society problems. We need to build a system of replenishment and growth. We must build a culture that values STEP and invests in ever advancing related disciplines. Brazos Robotics begins by showcasing some of today’s professionals who are aggressively investing in the next generation (ING). Then we integrate ING requirements into STEP and the STEP Award. STEP students put on demonstrations for younger kids, make oral presentations to younger kids, and are rewarded for outreach to younger kids. Finally, Brazos Robotics trains students, STEP professions, and teachers to mentor young learners.
New generations of science, technology, engineering, and programming professionals are required to address the mounting challenges of our evolving society. Preparing this new generation of professionals requires more than simply teaching technical artifacts. To be sustainable, we must also condition the value system of this new generation of professionals. Brazos Robotics ambitiously aims to build a sustainable group of comprehensive programs that address this need. We summarize it as our STEPpING stones vision. Are you willing to take that one little step and start investing in the next generation?
Please contact us soon to help us move forward.