Through robotics and community outreach to elementary, middle, and high schools in central Louisiana, LSU Alexandria, or LSUA, is increasing access to careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, for a growing number of students, including the underserved. schools. For many, robotics is their first experience with machine learning and artificial intelligence.
“In my 26 years as a teacher, this has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” said Ashley Popov of JI Barron Elementary School in Pineville, Louisiana, standing surrounded by her students and other students on the LSUA campus. Last spring, the robots they built picked up balls and threw them, often successfully, into the goal. “I am an ESL teacher – English as a second language – but LSUA has been a great resource for us to get started with robotics even if we don’t have a teacher who specializes in robotics. Last summer, LSUA students came out and helped me create the field in which we practice driving robotics.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged hands-on teaching in Louisiana schools, LSUA has expanded its mentoring role to keep students engaged in robotics, including in schools who are unable to afford or organize their own programs. LSUA hosted three state championships in 2021 and four in 2022, and received 64 and 108 teams, respectively, from across the state, including the JI Barron team.
JI Barron enrolls students from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. The after-school robotics program is primarily geared toward students in fifth and sixth grade who can build the same robots and play the same games as middle school students—there is some overlap between the different paths, which can engage students in robotics from elementary school to college. This spring, Popov reached out to all 125 fourth graders in her school to find out who would be joining their team this fall.
“I’ve never cut anybody,” said Popov. “If they are interested, I know they will give it their all.”
This is JI Barron’s third year in robotics with LSUA as a mentor. While Popov focused primarily on helping her students build and drive robotics for the first two years, she is now expanding her program to include coding while also keeping a detailed engineering diary.
“The memo is a big part,” Popov said. “As with any kind of engineering, they need to document every step.” “This didn’t work, so we need to change this…” They can always go back and try again. In addition to the immediate benefit of learning about engineering, I think these are important life skills It will move them through jobs, relationships, and just life.”
LSUA’s robotics program and outreach efforts are led by Associate Professor of Computer Science Tanya Lauder. Aside from helping out with the college-wide robotics team, she leads teams at the elementary, middle, and high school levels in partnership with several surrounding schools.
“In our first year, we started with two teams, but we had to put it up in four teams with students from the community because many schools said, ‘We can’t have teams this year, can you take our team?'” Lauder said. “They come after school and on weekends, and we usually meet on Sundays. In some schools, I may not draw more than one or two students, but we try to help all schools and provide training and mentorship to teachers who are interested in becoming trainers of robots and leading their own teams.”
Crest Industries, a Louisiana-based company based in Pineville that specializes in electrical power delivery, industrial services, distribution and natural resources, supports LSUA’s efforts to engage district schools and students of all ages, while also sponsoring robotics programs at five elementary, middle, and high schools in Rapides Parish, including In it J.I. Barron.
Tania Lauder of LSUA, Ph.D. In Mathematics and Computer Science, she looks at her career as an example of how important opportunities to engage early in STEM can be over the long term.
“When I was in middle school, I had the opportunity to learn math after my age a lot,” Lauder said. “So, I learned to love math because I was good at it, and even though I had fewer computer science opportunities until I went to college, I flew through those classes because I already had the basics and confidence. Otherwise, I might have flopped a bit. But giving students these The slice of engineering, programming, and team building allows them to make better decisions in the future. Maybe because we started them early, they’ll be the next Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.”
“Not all of our students working in robotics will go on to do computer programming and engineering, of course,” Lauder continued. “But without some starting point, they may not even consider these options. I think robotics is a precursor, and whether these kids realize it or not, they gain experience with machine learning and artificial intelligence — programming, training and retraining a robot to work independently to make decisions and complete tasks.” You have to start somewhere, and if we can help students all over Louisiana get that start, that’s very helpful.”
“The hands-on learning opportunities that LSUA Robotics has created for our local students are fantastic…These programs give children greater access to the ever-changing world of STEM and build a better future for students in our region. Our team at Crest is happy to help spark hard work, curiosity, and innovation through Support and amplify these opportunities.”
Sarah Sasser Crest Industries Talent Management Manager
Meanwhile, Beaubouef emphasizes how skills learned in robotics can quickly be translated into other fields.
“I ask my kids, ‘Have you ever come across a problem that you couldn’t solve before? “Robots are a great way to deal with problems that arise and learn how to solve them collaboratively,” said Popov, talking about the fourth graders. Another thing – we don’t compete against other teams. When we go to the state, we meet with another team to work together to score the most points.”
“Also, a lot of these kids wouldn’t have had a chance to set foot on a college campus and get on a path toward engineering without robots and LSUA,” Popov continued. “Fortunately, now in middle school we have a bot program that follows our program, and our high school as well, so they can follow it all the way to college.”
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