Exploring Robotics at Maryland

“Dear Mr. Vincent,” the email began. “We think Maryland should start a robotics club. We would like you to teach it for us. We think you are the best teacher for this job. This is because you are always talking about us being the engineers of the future.”

The email from three fifth grade Maryland students, signed with a smiley-face, landed in fifth grade teacher Mike Vincent’s inbox last fall. By the end of the semester, he had secured a $1,916 BEF classroom mini grant to purchase four VEX robot kits and software. The three students who wrote the letter, Alden Lippman, Alex Dutton and Ian Roy, joined by several friends and fellow technology enthusiasts, have been meeting this spring in Mr. Vincent’s classroom at lunchtime and during indoor recess to assemble the robots.

“The kids are really excited,” said Mr. Vincent. “They will learn about programming. The complicated action of getting the robot to do something like move a ball in a certain direction and then dump it in a specific place requires several levels of problem-solving.”

The students are currently learning their way around the software needed to program the robots. They hope to be able to hold a school-wide demonstration next month, after which Mr. Vincent plans to open up the club to more students. “These kids can mentor others,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest.”

The BEF has supported the interests of students and teachers in exploring new technologies and robotics starting in 2003 with a grant for roller coaster creations. Over the years BEF grants have purchased materials for STEM on Wheels at Montrose, the STEM Clubs at Cassingham and Maryland, the LEGO Club at Montrose, technology for the STEM Classroom at Bexley Middle School, and supported the Robotics Team at Bexley High School.