Military members, students master robotics
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- U.S. service members helped spark Okinawa Department of Defense Dependent Schools students' interest in science, technology, engineering and math by helping them prepare for and participating in an island-wide robotics competition last month.
The competition took place on U.S. Marine Corps Camp Foster and DoDDS students from around the island gathered to see which team could program standardized robots to complete specific tasks the fastest.
The event was held to support an education initiative which aims to encourage students to take an interest in STEM subjects at an early age.
"Many times we segregate these sciences as teachers, but in the real world success and innovation come from the ability to integrate and blend these subjects to solve real problems," said Benjamin Ayres, KES educational technologist and robotics club sponsor. "If we are going to develop students to be successful, we need to be focusing on project-based learning and developing the skills that are needed to blend all of these to create a better society, nation and world."
In order to keep students motivated, military personnel met with the KES robotics club every Wednesday to help its members program their robots. The goal was to learn skills needed to perform various tasks at the competition, such as moving in a figure-eight motion or following a colored line.
Ayres said the military volunteers were extremely helpful, and noted that it's easier for 15 teachers to keep students focused and determined to solve problems than it is for one.
On the day of the competition, service members acted as judges, supervising the students and ensuring they successfully completed one task before moving on to the next. The students were also given the opportunity to operate an explosive ordnance disposal robot during a demonstration by members of Camp Foster's Marine Corps Base EOD.
"My favorite part was playing with the bomb robots," said Mace Phillips, a Kadena Elementary School student. "It doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's just something fun."
The robotics competition is just one part of a national initiative to get young students excited about science, technology, engineering and math. Even though the competition lasted only one day and there isn't another level of competition to which the winners will advance, the students involved now have a positive experience to associate with STEM subjects, which was the goal from the beginning.
"We are just one school, but as a nation we are slowly getting the ball moving with STEM programs," Ayres said. "These things solve problems that can change the future of our nation and of mankind but we need to develop the skills and create a passion for solving problems in our youth.
"If you have the time, taking a few hours out of the day to develop or share these passions can change a student's life and can quite possibly change the world."