Expert Viewpoint

How Robotics and Coding Platforms Support STEM Learning

Here are five reasons to use a robotics, coding and computing platform to attract and keep more students interested in STEM subjects and careers.

I’ve been a career and technical education (CTE) project facilitator for about three years and was previously a teacher. In 2017, a colleague brought us the CoderZ online coding, robotics, and computing platform and said, "You really need to see this." We logged in, played around with the platform a bit, and really liked it — so much so that we wrote a grant that helped fund our first year of using the platform.

At the time, we purchased a three-year license for the robotics platform. This allowed us to bring coding into the curriculum, and to start using virtual robotics and other advanced technologies for the STEM instruction. For example, students were able to compete against other schools in building virtual robots as part of the platform’s cyber robotics competition. I also really liked the fact that teachers were able to track their students’ progress and monitor their successes.

Here are five more ways CoderZ can help build out a STEM program and give students hands-on experience with robotics, coding, and computing:

  1. Gets students engaged in STEM at a younger age. We’ve all heard the statistics about how difficult it can be to get students interested in STEM subjects, and how much harder it is to keep them engaged as they progress through school. Using our coding platform, we’ve been able to get more students involved and interested at a younger age, and given them some pretty awesome knowledge at the middle-school level. Once they get a taste of what it’s like to build a virtual robot or create a computer program from scratch, they’re hooked. For a recent STEAM Career Expo we brought in vendors that gave kids hands-on experiences with different activities. For example, they got to use a virtual forklift and play with the virtual welders. It was a lot of fun for the kids, but it also got them thinking about potential careers and educational paths that they may not have otherwise considered.

  1. The enthusiasm is contagious. Many students who get involved with robotics and coding not only stick with it themselves, but they also spread the enthusiasm to others. Our robotics program and first CoderZ competition started out small. The following year it had grown to the point where we knew we needed a dedicated room for students to work in — one without background noise or other distractions. That room had to be expanded even further the next year to accommodate all of the participants. It's a lot of fun to see our students’ enthusiasm for STEM growing year over year.

  1. Supports remote learning. Because students and teachers can access the coding platform from anywhere, it’s worked out pretty well during the COVID-related shutdown and subsequent uncertainties over whether we are (or aren’t) going back into the classroom. I’m sure we’ll have teachers competing in the CoderZ League cyber coding and robotics competition this school year, and many of our students participating in the live robotics competitions. Since they can’t be in the classroom in person, I think we’re going to see some major growth in the number of kids participating virtually — either as a club, or on their own time.

  1. Doesn’t require a download. We’ve been a Google district for about four years and our students use Chromebooks. These are sturdy machines that students can really put through the ringer, but you can’t download programs onto them. Because our coding platform is web-based, we’ve been able to keep using it for remote learning. Unfortunately, COVID also surfaced some major gaps between students that had technology and students that did not have technology at home, but we’ve been partnering with Cox Cable to get Wi-Fi devices out to the students that lack Internet access at their homes.

  1. It’s learning disguised as gaming. It took me a while to learn how to do block coding, but our students picked it up pretty quickly. That’s because our platform disguises learning as gaming and makes the entire experience fun and engaging. Through gamification, students often don’t even realize they're learning valuable skills that they’re going to need for further STEM education and for their careers. Along the way, they're also learning math skills; spatial and critical thinking; and collaboration.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a big push to get CTE into middle schools, and our robotics and coding platform has been a great facilitator in making this happen. We’re not only able to get much younger students interested in CTE, but we’re also equipping them with skills they need to be successful in those programs — and in life.

About the Author

Nikki Meador is College, Career, & Equity Unit, CTE Project Facilitator for Clark County, NV.