For Amanda Drewel, what takes place outside of the classroom can be just as important as what happens at the desk. As a service-learning Bonner Leader, expectations were high. She was on the lookout for a program that would serve her needs as a young professional hoping to get kids excited about STEM fields. Not exactly the breeziest of tasks. But since her placement at Robberson Community School, Amanda has proven to excel in the community as an educator and coordinator with a little help from robots.
Amanda describes the program idea as a recognizable need to empower young learners in the areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Familiarity with these fields will likely help students find higher paying jobs. This can help mitigate the poverty cycle many of them are in. The robotics program uses LEGO education to encourage an interest in engineering and coding. The children design and build robots that they are then able connect to their Chromebooks. Then, they build a code capable of executing sequenced movement in the robot.
Typically, a lesson begins with a problem or scenario. The first lesson showed two scientists that were getting too hot in the science lab on a hot summer day, so they needed a working fan in order to cool them down. The next step prompted the students to build, design or improve the physical model of the robot using the Legos in their kits. The students connect the robot to their Chromebook using Bluetooth, then creating a code for the robot to follow and carry out. Finally, students can make improvements to the robots and code to achieve varied results.
A junior in the Reading, Foundations and Tech program, Amanda serves a major service-learning role. Being a Bonner Leader at Missouri State means she writes the curriculum, organizes lessons for the week, leads instruction during club, and operates as the primary communicator between CASL and Robberson. That alone not being enough, she also jumps in to help organize leaders and monitor curriculum in other STEAM (STEM + Arts) related after-school clubs at Robberson, including: gardening club, LEGO Land math, and art club.
“I especially have loved how hardworking and interested the girls have been to get to work with robots and improve their engineering and coding skills, it is a passion of mine to empower young women in STEM fields since they are traditionally so male-dominated.”
Despite the responsibility, Amanda is certain to remind us of the other factors that lead to the robotics club’s implementation. She gives credit to SoSE or Society of Science Educators, which has been offering volunteers to help run the club on Friday mornings. With about 40 students in attendance each week, the additional help is welcomed. She also praises grant writing students from John Turner’s Missouri State Grant-writing class, which was successful in obtaining the funding to purchase LEGO Robotics kits and the WeDo 2.0 Software for programming and coding.
“I am so grateful to have such a supportive team here in the CASL office, as well as a very hard working group of volunteers that are willing to give their time to the students at Robberson, I know the kids love all of our volunteers a lot. Kathy Nordyke (Missouri State) and Laura Shulties (Robberson) have also been extremely instrumental in the running of the club and its startup.”
What hits home the most for Amanda is how it’s impacting the lives of area children – most of who would otherwise not have access to this type of learning.
“I think that this club has really helped to empower the students at Robberson to take interest in the areas of STEM and this is really great to see,” she says. “I especially have loved how hardworking and interested the girls have been to get to work with robots and improve their engineering and coding skills, it is a passion of mine to empower young women in STEM fields since they are traditionally so male-dominated.
Robberson is a Title 1 community school in the Northwest area of Springfield, an area struggling with severe poverty and lack of educational opportunities. The operation of the program is new to Missouri State, but LEGO education has been used for a while all over the world. After experiencing the positivity and potential at Robberson first hand, Amanda hopes to see the robotics club implemented in various other after-school clubs and summer camps soon.
“I think that bringing these students the opportunity to work with kits and programs that are not always available to low-income schools is a great thing. Students see this club as a special event and feel encouraged to learn and involve themselves in STEM areas. Often, professions in STEM fields are higher paying and so this club could be a Kickstarter to put students into those fields so that they can find higher paying jobs that could help to remove them and their families from poverty.”
Staff at the CCE are thrilled to see Amanda embrace a leadership role and apply her passions in a way that’s also an educational experience for her. She is applying the ideal of active citizenship and the university’s public affairs mission in a way that better prepares for her own career aspirations. Amanda offers a prime example to other Missouri State students that service-learning and community engagement are effective methods for building paths toward a career while still attending college.
The Center for Community Engagement is really into community. We fulfill Missouri State’s public affairs mission with programming, faculty support and meaningful opportunities for students. For more information visit https://www.missouristate.edu/cce/.
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