Robotic example: Learning by doing is not automatic

With Oregon schools at the intersection of rising standards and reduced resources, it’s good to know that some up-and-coming engineers are standing at the corner.

News comes this week that Lego First robotics teams from Hood River Middle School and May Street Elementary have advanced to state competition in January (article, page A6).

It’s another example of the growing success of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs in our schools.

Of course, an asterisk of sorts goes next to the phrase “in our schools.” That’s because parents, professionals and other volunteers from business and industry, in addition to schools, are integral to helping robotics and other STEM programs work.

With school budget cuts an annual reality, educators must increasingly rely on these kinds of community partnerships. We’ve seen it happen in arts, reading, math and other programs in addition to sports in middle school and high school.

Hands-on and project-based learning encourages innovation and creativity, and has the potential to at least indirectly nudge students to success in the pursuit of higher test scores to satisfy state and federal mandates, a modern school system reality.

The long-standing goal of state officials has been to provide skilled and “work-ready” graduates to meet the needs of companies in an increasingly complex marketplace.

It is an incredibly complex model, one that is sure to see major changes, revisions at the minimum, should Gov. John Kitzhaber’s proposal come to pass to create a separate state agency for post-secondary education. The plan goes before the Oregon Legislature next year in what is sure to be an eventful session.

Opening day for the Legislature always features some playful twists to go along with the pomp and circumstance. One idea to add to the festivities, while demonstrating the need to support hands-on learning, would be to invite the robotics teams to set up their courses in and around the Capitol rotunda for everyone to witness education in action.

Meanwhile, congratulations to the local “Team Celsius” and “Robo Dragons,” and all their supporters.

The robotics kids are learning, and having fun doing so, and the more help they can get from adults, the better.

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