C-STEM Day conference, robot competition promotes robotics in teaching

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Mobots in the Zoo

(Read about a synopsis of the event, including the awards ceremony for students and teachers.)

Middle and high school students will show their skills in robotics and problem-solving while teachers, educators, researchers and policymakers discuss how to use computing, technology, engineering and robotics in K-14 education at the second annual UC Davis C-STEM Day, Saturday, May 5.

"Robotics is an interdisciplinary field and working with robots can really get students excited about computing and STEM," said Harry Cheng, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC Davis, using the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Cheng is director of the UC Davis K-14 Outreach Center for Computing and STEM Education, or C-STEM. With the support of the National Science Foundation, the center is working on several key issues: How can STEM learning help close the achievement gap for minority students and promote success for all students; How will STEM learning change school environments, curriculum, instructional and assessment practices; and how will a focus on STEM learning impact teacher preparation and professional development?

C-STEM Day runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with most events taking place in the UC Davis Conference Center. During the morning, there will be a conference on the theme of integrating technology and engineering into math and science education, with a keynote speech by UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, herself an engineer by training. Panel discussions will cover teaching algebra, math, computing and technology; closing the achievement gap; and professional development for pre-service and in-service STEM teachers.

Among those taking part will be Deputy Director Michael Hardwick of Sandia National Laboratories; Winfred Robinson, superintendent of the Davis Joint Unified School District; Timothy Taylor, assistant superintendent of the Sacramento County Office of Education; and Matthew Perry, director of High School Reform Initiatives for the Sacramento City Unified School District.

At the same time, K-12 students from regional schools will be working on the RoboPlay Robot Challenge. The challenge lets students showcase their real-world problem solving skills in a competitive environment. The teams will be presented with a problem at a remote location such as a space station or planetary habitat, where they have to quickly develop and deploy a robotic solution using only existing resources. The specific challenge will be kept secret until the day of the competition.

In the afternoon, the students will present their results from the Robot Challenge Competition, as well as videos from a "RoboPlay Robot Dance" and “Robot Show” that they have been working on over the preceding weeks and other robotics demonstrations. The day will end with an awards ceremony.

A number of schools from across the greater Sacramento region, including Westmore Oaks Elementary, Bridgeway Island Elementary, and River City High School in West Sacramento, Harper Junior High in Davis, Einstein Education Center in Woodland, and Hiram Johnson High in Sacramento, are working with Cheng's center to implement programs that teach algebra and computer programming, using the modular robot "Mobot" invented in Cheng's laboratory at UC Davis.

The center's RoboPlay competitions are open-ended design challenges that integrate computer programming and math with elements of writing, art, music, choreography, design and filmmaking. Middle and high school students write computer programs to create robot dances and robot shows as well as complete challenges using the Mobot.

The center also offers summer programs and fellowships for STEM teachers to get experience in computing and robotics research that can be applied in their teaching.

A single Mobot module has wheels at each end and two hinges in the center. An individual module can drive on its wheels, crawl or raise one end of its body and pan around. Modules can be connected together to make wheeled vehicles, "snakes", "gorilla," humanoid or other shapes with different applications. Each module is fully programmable and can be controlled simultaneously, making it extremely versatile for a wide range of exercises.

As well as figuring out how to program the robots for different applications, students can design new parts and accessories for the robots and prototype them with three-dimensional printers.

Watch another video featuring the Mobots, Mobots in the Forest.

C-STEM Day is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the UC Davis College of Engineering and University Outreach and International Programs.

To register for the conference or for full program details, please visit http://c-stem.ucdavis.edu/activities/conference/. Attendance is free, but advance registration by May 1 is required.

Media Resources

Andy Fell, Research news (emphasis: biological and physical sciences, and engineering), 530-752-4533, ahfell@ucdavis.edu

Harry Cheng, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, 530-752-5020, hhcheng@ucdavis.edu

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Society, Arts & Culture Science & Technology Education

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