By Ty G. Vojacek-Sobczak

 This past semester was an exciting time for Neighborhood Learning Alliance’s new Tech Warrior program. Students from four elementary schools (Spring Hill, Woolslair, Arsenal, and Lincoln) worked with adult aides and teenage Warriors in afterschool robotics classes. Participating children in grades 3 through 5 learned how to use the physical robots as well as an online challenge pack to begin learning basic programming.

The curriculum for the robotics program covers applied mathematics, building, designing, and programming concepts. All of the students – about 12 at each school – loved the classes and did a wonderful job. Each school had a team attend a VEX IQ competition in May, and Spring Hill placed fourth in the overall driver control competition against 13 total teams. This competition required students to use their own robot in a block-stacking competition with their own code for controlling the robot with a remote. The students had to program the remote-control code themselves, resulting in their own way of driving and moving the robot.

With summer rolling in, NLA has set up a badging system through Pittsburgh City of Learning to help train the Tech Warriors to be more proficient beginner-level Roboticists. The Warriors will be focusing on programming, building, and using the tools available to develop the skills needed to create their own robots, as well as teach the concepts at the grade school level. They will also be involved in collaborative projects with their peers to encourage a self-motivated disposition following iterative design steps, project logging, feedback, and the use of open source environments to expand on their understanding of computer science and robotics.

Of course, the most important part of the program for the Tech Warriors is working in the classroom with elementary students. Warriors will be encouraged to plan a lesson, present that lesson, and to be involved in a 1-on-1 classroom design to help the students bring their ideas to fruition. It’s very exciting to see the potential of the Tech Warriors program come to life.

NLA also met up with The Additive Project to create a 3D printing program for the Tech Warriors.  The Warriors will take an introductory class on 3D modeling to learn new tools and skills for creating and printing models. They will then introduce the grade school students to the concepts as role models and educators to show that 3D modeling is a relevant and cool project to be involved in.

This 3D program will also provide an introduction to sustainable energy. After the Warriors have completed all assignments, they will be encouraged to continue exploring their own ideas as well as creating and printing them. To add depth to the experience, students will design and print their own modular turbine. With these designs, the students should be able to create a simple wind- or water-powered turbine using bar magnets and copper coils. We’re so excited to see that project come to life and introduce students to green energy.

Overall, the Tech Warriors program is continuing to adopt more and more Builder/Maker projects and ideas while still continuing to focus on applied mathematics and computer science. We are lucky to have so many resources at our fingertips to be able to introduce these programs to students who may not have access to the resources needed.  The best part of the program is that so much is student-driven, focusing on the individual’s creativity and ideas and challenging students to solve problems.

The photos below are from a Tech Friday event hosted at Woolslair Elementary last semester. Students are holding up the “Claw Bots” they built and tested in teams, then used to play the Highrise Challenge game that day.