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STEM Education Groups Partner for Robotics Curriculum

Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a program working to encourage and support STEM education in classrooms nationwide, has partnered with VEX Robotics to offer the company's Robotics Design System (RDS) for students to use in pursuit of their own robotics projects.

VEX Robotics offers curricula and resources aimed at giving students a hands-on STEM education by teaching them the scientific concepts and theories and providing the actual equipment necessary to design, build, and program their own robotic devices. Beginning in the 2011-2012 school year, students enrolled in PLTW partner schools will have access to the VEX RDS platform and equipment and will be eligible to participate in the company's array of competitions, including classroom competitions, TSA-VEX (in partnership with the Technology Student Association), and the global VEX Robotics Competition.

The PLTW program offers a curriculum that exposes students not only to theories and concepts, but to real-world applications such as robotics, turning each of its classrooms into what it calls a PLTW Innovation Zone. Led by educators specially trained in the group's hands-on curriculum, such classes are not traditional biology, physics, earth science, etc., but rather offer instruction in a range of scientific theories and concepts. Students then incorporate what they've learned into projects involving technology, design, and engineering that ultimately demonstrate these theories and concepts in a practical setting.

At the Anderson Districts I & II Career and Technology Center (ADCTC) in Williamston, SC, Cindy Langley and Sean McCullough are two educators who have received PLTW training and now teach these applied science courses. Instead of attending 40- to 50-minute lectures and taking notes, however, 420 students in the two districts spend a half day every other school day learning about STEM topics and their uses and then immediately putting them to work.

"The actual curriculum is so hands-on, versus theory-based," Langley explained. "Being able to manipulate the theory and how to apply the theory makes a lot of the content and topics so much less intimidating."

"They're really innovative courses," said McCullough. "It's not a traditional [scenario] where they sit there and listen to a lecture and take notes. They're seeing the content they learn in their math and science classes being used in real-world ways. They can see the connection between theory and real life."

The practical application of multiple fields of science reaches an apex in fields like robotics, with math, physics, engineering, computer programming, and cognitive science all intersecting in the design, construction, programming, and use of a rudimentary anthropomorphic machine.

"Robotics is not only an important field of study for students interested in pursuing careers in STEM related fields but also integrates the critical and innovative thinking skills that are the foundation for any intellectual pursuit," said John Lock, CEO of PLTW. "The majority of robotics programs for students are either after school or during weekend competitions, but now PLTW students have the opportunity to experience the hands-on, project based robotics curriculum in the classroom just like math or science. These problem-solving skills are exactly what students have to develop to be successful in today's 21st century economy."

Detailed information about VEX Robotics' educational robotics programs is available at the company's education overview page. Information for schools interested in implementing the PLTW program is available here.

Editor's note: This article has been modified since its original publication. Sean McCullough had previously been cited as John McCullough. [Last updated Dec. 10, 2010 at 10:43 a.m.] --David Nagel

About the Author

Scott Aronowitz is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas. He has covered the technology, advertising, and entertainment sectors for seven years. He can be reached here.

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