Robotics Society promotes STEM
April 8, 2014
As the members of the Issaquah High School Robotics Society accepted the FIRST Robotics Competition Chairman’s Award at the district competition held in March, it represented a win for thousands of district students.
In six short years, the robotics club raised awareness in the community and generated a wave of interest and demand for robotics among students in younger grades.
It’s also led to increased interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics class across the district, according to Dennis Wright, Issaquah School District director of career and counseling services.
“Our increased numbers of student enrollments in engineering and computer science are a direct result of the successes of this organization and the students it serves,” he said in a news release. “Their efforts and enthusiasm for STEM thinking has reached elementary, middle and high school students.”
Robotics was once considered a high school club or program that served a small group of interested students. Today, every middle school in the Issaquah School District has a robotics club, and robotics units are taught at all the elementary science-technology magnet programs.
That was accomplished in part through the influence of the Issaquah Robotics Society’s “Taking FIRST to the Streets Campaign,” launched in 2011. FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, a national program with state affiliates, including FIRST Washington that offers robotics competitions at the local, state and national levels.
It wasn’t easy to drum up such enthusiasm for robotics, Issaquah High School teacher Brett Wortzman said in the release. He recalled the challenge of standing out among passers-by at a local ArtWalk.
“By stretching the community perception of ‘art’ to robotics, we landed a site inside a chiropractic office on Front Street awaiting fascinated spectators,” he said in the release. “Unfortunately, only waves of rain peeked through the foggy windows at our robot.”
It took a live demonstration of the group’s mini-bot to get onlookers to notice the group, but once they did, interest for the club took off.
The team soon found itself giving presentations to numerous middle schools and even community organizations, such as Kiwanis and Rotary. It developed alliances with other Issaquah School District FIRST Robotics Competition teams to mentor middle school teams and it even teaches units at elementary schools.
The team soon caught the attention of the Issaquah Schools Foundation by reaching out for funding and demonstrating the benefits to students who participated in its programs. The foundation is a major partner with the school district in supporting STEM and robotics throughout the district.
By pursuing their passions, the teens of the Issaquah Robotics Society had a huge impact on the increased course and unit offerings in STEM, which in the long run, benefits all 18,000 students in the district.