Fifth-graders bring robotics to St. Mary’s County schools

Fifth-graders bring robotics to St. Mary’s County schools

Mobile Learning Boxes make hands-on STEM learning available to elementary school classrooms

What began as a research project by a group of Ridge Elementary fifth-grade students is now a county-wide science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) initiative making robotics available to all 18 St. Mary’s County public elementary schools, starting in September.

Mobile STEM Learning Boxes will provide schools with access to over a dozen learning boxes, each containing enough robots to serve a classroom of 24 students. The boxes will be shared among all public elementary schools in St. Mary’s County.

The boxes were made possible through the joint contributions of the Ridge Elementary Robotics Team, The Patuxent Partnership, and community sponsors.

“The benefit of using robotics in the classroom goes well beyond the obvious skills of engineering and programming,” said Karl Neddenien, Maryland Community Relations Manager for Dominion Energy, one of the project sponsors. “Skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication and team work are instrumental in the workforce. Robotics is the perfect way to teach all of these skills.”

The Mobile STEM Learning Boxes initiative was developed by the Ridge Elementary School robotics team as their research component for the 2017 VEX IQ Challenge.

The VEX IQ Challenge is presented annually by the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation to provide elementary and middle school students with hands-on robotics and research challenges. Teams participate in regional, state, and global competitions.

The Ridge Elementary team’s work paid off in a big way: not only did they win the local and state VEX IQ championships, they also gained the attention of community leaders who saw potential in implementing the concept.

The team formally presented the idea to a number of industry partners and members of the Maryland General Assembly at the Maryland State House.

“We are very proud of these young engineers,” said Scott Stewart, Northrop Grumman’s Corporate Lead Executive for Naval Air Systems Command. “Robotics programs provide students with the hands-on experiences to build skills and confidence in the STEM areas most needed in government and industry. It is an investment in our county’s future.”

The Patuxent Partnership, a local non-profit dedicated to STEM education, workforce development, and technology transfer, assisted the students by managing the purchase and delivery process. The project’s community sponsors are all members of The Patuxent Partnership.

“’STEM for All’ is our educational goal. The fact that this program is a direct result of previous program investments makes the reward even greater,” commented The Patuxent Partnership Executive Director Bonnie Green. “Having fifth-grade students develop and implement such a creative initiative is evidence of the value of robotics in our schools.”

Teachers will work through their Media Specialist to borrow boxes containing various types of robots. Because the robots are so versatile, the same system can be used at any grade level – from Kindergarten through fifth grade. The kits include tools and resources to help teachers incorporate robots into the curriculum.

Developing a program based on shared resources will allow every student access to technology at minimal cost, according to Roger Budd, Business Development Manager at the Raytheon Patuxent River Field Office.

“Bringing this type of learning tool into our schools is exactly the right thing to do,” said Budd. “We are excited to see what these kids will do with these resources.”

Northrop Grumman Corporation, Raytheon, Dominion Energy, the Association of Old Crows Pax River Roost, and AVIAN LLC contributed over $16,500 in funding for robots and educational and training resources.

“Support from our community partners and corporate leaders drives our system forward and keeps STEM education at the center of our work,” said Scott Smith, Superintendent of Schools for St. Mary’s County. “Our future depends on how well we prepare the next generation, and our partners have invested in their promise. Without this support, STEM-for-All programs such as robotics, science fairs, Destination Imagination and many others would not be possible.”

About The Patuxent Partnership: The Patuxent Partnership is a non-profit member organization that fosters collaboration between government, industry, and academia to advance education through STEM-based initiatives; to advance technology through speaker programs, forums, and networking; to advance science and technology transfer through the exchange of ideas, information, and data related to technologies; and to increase workforce development through an array of initiatives. For more information, please visit www.paxpartnership.org.

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