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Teacher Ambassador Program [Q&A] – Brian Wetzel

Brian Wetzel is a 9-12th grade STEM Teacher and UBTECH Teacher Ambassador at Centerburg High School in Centerburg Ohio. Recently, we chatted with Brian to find out a little more about how he implements robotics and STEM in his classroom. Here is a snippet of our chat:

In general, what challenges does your school face in bringing STEM and robotics programs to students?

I have always wanted to integrate robotics into my classes more. I believe robotics combines the many essential skills and practices, such as problem-based learning and hands-on learning, as well as problem solving through programming.

Being a small rural district, we have always tried to infuse technology as much as possible. Our computer science offerings are very limited and we have worked to get more students interested in STEM learning through a variety of classes over the years.

These reasons led me to apply to the TAP (Teacher Ambassador) program and try to implement a new robotics program with the UKITs.

So, how does the implementation with UKITs support your STEM initiatives?

UKITs allow for a level of creativity that many other activities do not. Students can be creative by building their own robot or by modifying one of the pre-created builds. They also allow for creativity through coding as there are many ways programs can be written. UKITs give a variety of ways to promote collaborative works which is also an essential skill in today’s workplace.

Did you have to modify your regular teaching approach as a result of using the UKITs?

I haven’t changed much at all. I’ve always been big on enabling the students to experience learning through discovery and iteration. UKITs have given me another way to allow this to happen.

Generally, I like to pair students up and introduce the UKITs and uCode to them. Then I allow them to choose which robot to build and they code it when finished. I walk around and answer questions as needed. After they finish, I have a set of reflection questions for the activity. These questions not [only] concentrate on their building and coding processes but also a relation to real life practices.

What makes your approach to STEM unique?

Many times I have just allowed the students to take over the lesson plan. Even though I have a general outline of my lesson(s), there have been times that the students have branched away from that idea and took their robots to another level. They looked at it as fun, but I looked at it as improvement through problem identification and iteration. It’s great because they kind of don’t realize that they’re learning until you point it out.

[As a result] My students have increased their ability to work collaboratively and to problem solve different issues.

Any advice?

My advice would be simple, don’t be afraid to let the students take the reins. Mistakes will be made and each one is an opportunity for learning. They’ll quickly learn to adapt and overcome these issues.

My most meaningful moment was when a group of students just kept trying to improve their robot to be able to get an advantage over another robot. They basically turned my lesson plan into a friendly BattleBots® arena, but it was awesome because they just kept improving their build. They would add little features or restructure their build to gain an advantage. It was fun to them, but also a great learning experience.

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