Empowering Teachers in the 21st Century Classroom with Robotics

Imagine working on a team of highschoolers that has spent months including countless endless nights working on a project, but they can’t work without a teacher there to supervise. Now imagine an underpaid and occasionally overworked teacher being willing to stay as late as 8:00 PM every single day after school without extra pay just so that his students and teams have the opportunity to work on their project. To many, this may seem unrealistic or possibly even moronic, but to several, it is a reality.

A regular working day for Cranberry highschool physics teacher and robotics coach Zack Bedee lasts 12 hours, from 7 in the morning until 7 in the evening. Even though the school day only lasts until 2:30, Mr. Bedee stays at school to coach and supervise his three VEX robotics teams to prepare them for competition. Even though he receives little to no benefits for this, he consistently remains passionate about every aspect of the program. In an interview, he mentioned “Robotics has offered me an alternate medium through which I can more effectively teach engineering related concepts. You can talk about gear ratios, lever arms, drivetrains, and the engineering process all day and not truly have the concept “stick” for a student. Once they spend a day designing and constructing an arm to lift a plastic cube; only to have it barely move, do they really get it. It’s a process that includes design, construction, testing, and teamwork that can only be taught through hands-on activities. Also I’ve never seen a student exuberant about a friction lab, but winning their first match or a design award? … That’s a sight to see.” Mr. Bedee has been a robotics coach for the past 5 years and has consistently devoted himself to his students in every project they’ve participated in. 

Another teacher, Daniel O’Brien, teaches tech to 8th graders, exposing them at earlier ages to STEM in school. In Mr. O’Brien’s tech class, students learn about principles of the engineering design process, both fundamentally and through projects such as drafting, civil engineering, and even participating in VEX IQ Robotics. He, along with Mr. Bedee, coaches his own robotics students, also spending countless long nights staying after school to coach. He says, “Robotics has been key to student development in our school. By incorporating engineering, technology and programming into the curriculum at various levels has been instrumental to our students’ understanding of the processes involved, computational thinking, and how these skills are useful in today’s world. Throughout their experiences, they develop stronger skills that will help them succeed in the workforce, such as teamwork, applied mathematics and physics, problem solving, and even building further interests in STEM areas. The excitement level that shows when students get to experience robotics, test and modify their creations, and compete against their friends, really shines through. It certainly builds a stronger connection to why robotics plays such an important role in our school.” Mr. O’Brien believes it is especially important for students to be exposed to STEM and robotics at younger ages so that they have more time to prepare later in highschool for future careers. 

Mr. Bedee and Mr. O’Brien are just two of thousands of teachers across the world who devote a large portion of their lives to their students, their teaching, and their robotics teams. Coaches in every sport are commonly known to dedicate a substantial part of their lives to their teams, and robotics is another opportunity for teachers to step up to a whole new level.

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