PLTW Gateway Robotics Curriculum Supports Development of Louisiana State Champion RoboWolves

Julie Beck has a master's degree in secondary science education and has been teaching middle school for seven years. She is a PLTW Master Teacher. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband, George, and her two daughters, Meredith and Lillian, both of whom she hopes to inspire to have a long-lasting love of STEM.

The PLTW Gateway unit that has made the largest impact in my classroom is the Automation and Robotics unit

Through this amazing curriculum, my students are getting exposed to STEM fields in middle school, when they would not have been able to be otherwise. My students are not just learning programming and robotics – they’re learning to think in different ways. They’re learning how to troubleshoot and how to problem solve. They're also learning that when faced with a difficult situation, they shouldn’t just give up but should instead try to push through and find a solution. 

It’s amazing to see the lightbulb go off for a student during the first building project, mechanical gears, in which students learn to build a variety of different mechanisms that they will use later in the unit to give their robots motion. To have a student say, "I love this!" or "I know I want to do this in the future!" is the best feeling I have ever experienced as a teacher. 

The first programming challenge with RobotC is another area where I often see the light bulbs coming on. A student who didn’t enjoy the mechanical side as much may find their niche in programming. 

Then finally, I LOVE seeing everything come together with the final project, the simulated factory assembly line. The cheers of happiness the students emit after their product has successfully completed the assembly line with no human touches bring unmatched joy to my heart. I have received such an overwhelmingly positive reaction from students, parents, and even other faculty members who will stop by and peek into my room to see what we are doing. 

Having only had a STEM background as a classroom teacher and very limited experience with robotics (having previously mentored an underwater ROV club), I had no idea that when I volunteered to go to Core Training that my whole career was going to change. 

I went from liking my job as a science teacher to having my dream job. Even though learning about robotics and programming was daunting at first, I really feel like I have found my niche. PLTW has provided me with a curriculum I WANT to teach and that students can’t wait to learn and are generally excited about. My experience as a robotics teacher has led to the formation of a VEX Robotics Club at my school. Last year, we had an all-time high registration number with 32 students and five individual robots! We won first place in the state and have been to VEX Worlds two years in a row! 

PLTW Gateway is the best overall package I have ever seen. It has truly changed me as a teacher and as a problem solver in general. The way I have learned to approach problems has changed for the better. 

Finally, the best advice I can give to new teachers is to let your students struggle a little with their APBs. They will learn from their struggle, and even if you see that they are maybe headed in the wrong direction, that’s OK. They will learn from this. Truly, you are going to become a facilitator to help guide them through the learning process. Learning through PLTW’s activity-, project-, problem-based (APB) learning style will make what they are learning mean something to them, and hopefully, they will be encouraged to pursue a STEM career in the future!

PLTW’s blog is intended to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.