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Students show off science, robotics savvy

Hilary Farrell

West Michigan officials say robotics programs boost student engagement in engineering and science – as well as other skills.

Sarah Jespersen, Vered Heidenfeld and Ruby Taylor are sixth graders at C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy. And right now, they’re introducing Carl.

"He’s our FTC robot."

"He has four motors, one controlling each wheel." 

"And there’s two phones that talk to each other basically through WiFi direct, that tell him what to do basically. And it’s really cool because - I mean, they’re phones."

The students showed off their robotics skills this month to local, state and business officials, including Governor Rick Snyder.

He says programs like FIRST Robotics get kids engaged in what can sometimes be a challenging topic.

"And what we found is [when] kids get into FIRST Robotics," Snyder says, "the opportunity for them to go into science – the outcome is more than twice as likely (those students will) go into a science field."

Snyder says it’s not just about science. It’s about teamwork.

And for some kids, it’s not even about science – it’s about marketing, or design, or public speaking. 

Credit Hilary Farrell
A student LEGO robot displayed at C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy.

At the demonstration, the kids aren’t thinking about careers per-se.

"I helped program – I do a lot of the programming." 

Tahj Gillespie is quick to tell me there’s a difference between robotics and schoolwork, because robotics is fun.

Caitlin Smith says programming was her favorite part too.

"And then seeing what you did – just (typing commands) on a computer, actually makes it do something," she says. "I think that’s really cool." 

GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal says the district started with a couple teams, which grew to 10 last year, and close to two dozen this year.

Snyder says four to five thousand middle schoolers and more than 10,000 high school students participate in FIRST-related programs across the state.

Hilary is a General Assignment and Enterprise reporter for WGVU Public Media. She joined WGVU in September 2014 after several years of experience as a local news reporter, anchor and photojournalist in Midland, Saginaw and Bay counties. She's also worked as a financial and business reporter and audio field producer.
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