My name is Derek, and I am an AmeriCorps member serving at Neighborhood House in High Point, Seattle. I work in STUDIO: Build Our World, the STEAM-based program dedicated to promoting STEAM education among underrepresented, low-income, immigrant, or refugee youth.
We currently serve roughly 65 youth and their families in the local community, and we primarily work with high school and middle school-aged students. This past winter quarter, our curriculum was based around technology. Our high school curriculum involved robotics, and I had the opportunity to lead our robotics curriculum and teach high schoolers how to approach mechanical engineering and build a robot. High schoolers were exposed to mechanical and software engineering aspects that gave them the opportunity to explore hands-on challenges involved with designing, creating, building, and coding their own unique robot.
I worked closely with Mohammed, a high schooler part of the mechanical team, and we built a contraption that can manipulate racquetballs with robotic claws attached to servo motors. During the building process, we used a trial-and-error approach to test claw designs to determine which design would be the most effective at picking up racquetballs. He was fascinated by this process and how we could build a complex machine from simple small parts, and this ignited his interest in engineering. Oftentimes, our mechanical design would need to be revised, so we would go back and brainstorm improvements. At the end, we were both proud of the robot we had completed at the end of the quarter.
The software students learned the basics of coding and commands that can control the robot’s wheel movements and servo motor actions. The software team coded the robot and the servo motors that control the mechanical claws. Both groups had the opportunity to experience real-world engineering principles as they worked together to finish the objectives and create their unique robot from scratch.
Overall, this robotics curriculum gave students the learning opportunity to discover how an engineer thinks, and places students in the shoes of a problem-solving engineer. My service as an AmeriCorps member working with these youth has been especially fulfilling because our program provides these youth STEAM opportunities that they otherwise would not have in their schools.