RobotsNOW Brings Robotics Programs to Elementary Schools to Address National STEM Education Crisis
Two teenage brothers (ages 13 and 16) believe the US STEM education crisis begins in elementary school, and they intend to do something about it! After their robotics team won the VEX IQ Robotics World Championships, they founded RobotsNOW to provide after-school robotics programs to students, so they can experience STEM fields in a fun, hands-on way.
Although most attention regarding the US STEM education crisis focuses on the small percentage of US college gradu-ates earning engineering degrees (4-5% of US graduates compared to 31% in China), this issue extends well into elementary school. In fact, two teenage brothers believe that’s where the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education crisis begins, and they intend to do something about it!
After their robotics team won First Place at the 2014 VEX IQ Robotics World Championships, Gabriel and Chandler Wimmer learned that most US elementary schools had no after-school STEM programs. “We had to do something. Our experience in competitive robotics was so positive. Of course, winning was fun, but more importantly, it gave us confidence to try other STEM activities,” states Gabriel. “We wanted every kid to have access to the same programs that we enjo-yed, so we launched RobotsNOW.”
RobotsNOW is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that advocates for robotics programs for elementary school students so they can experience STEM subjects in a fun, hands-on way. Robotics is an ideal teaching medium since it combines all STEM fields to design, build and program robots. Plus, most kids are familiar with the building-block style of the more popular robotics platforms, such as LEGO NXT and VEX IQ.
Gabriel and Chandler are examples of the positive impact that after-school robotics programs can have. Gabriel developed a passion for STEM fields and now attends Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology where he is a member of its Rocketry and CyberPatriot teams. At age 11, Chandler had the necessary confidence in STEM to enter a national toy invention contest, targeted for high school kids. He won second place, signing a royalty agreement with the sponsoring toy company for his design.
This summer, the brothers have expanded RobotsNOW’s scope to include free, week-long robotics camps in under-served school districts. The camps are extremely popular with over 25 students and teachers attending each camp. During these camps, students learn to use the engineering design process, program sensors, and build complex robots. “The camps are a lot of fun. The only bad part is that the kids ask if their schools will be starting robotics clubs because they want to join,” Chandler, an 8th Grader at Nysmith School, says. “Right now, the answer is ‘no’ because the schools don’t have the funds to buy robotics equipment. That’s why we’re launching a crowdfunding campaign.”
RobotsNOW’s crowdfunding campaign, titled “Help Start After-School Robotics Programs,” is hosted by Generosity.com, a subsidiary of IndieGoGo.com. The purpose of this campaign is to raise funds to donate fully-configured robotics labs that can support in-class and after-school robotics programs for every student at an elementary school. The cost of a robotics lab is $8000.
“I know $8000 is a lot of money,” admits Gabriel. “But I think it represents an incredible return-on-investment. Our economy is driven by STEM innovators, and the next Bill Gates or Elon Musk could be at one of these elementary schools! Regardless, these programs could help kids realize a passion in a STEM field that could change the rest of their lives.”
“I don’t think I’m
smart enough to do
math and science.”
Company Name: RobotsNOW
On the Web at: www.robotsnow.org
About Robots Now
This is what a bright 5th Grader said at one of our robotics camps when asked what kind of careers she wanted to pursue as an adult. She said this while holding a complex robot that she designed, built, and programmed. Despite the proof that was in her hands, our country’s stereo-typing still convinced her that she wasn’t “smart enough” to pursue fields in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
At this point, I realized that kids need more than a single week-long camp to overcome their society-created insecurities about STEM. They need on-going after-school STEM programs to build their confidence and possibly ignite a passion that could change the rest of their lives.
Who are we?
My younger brother, Chandler, and I owe robotics so much. In middle school, we were on a team that won First Place at the 2014 VEX Robotics World Championships. Not only did we have fun, but more importantly, robotics helped us overcome our fear of technical subjects and realize our passion for STEM activities.
Since then, I have stayed with robotics and expanded my interests to include rocketry and cyber security, where my CyberPatriot Team was a National Finalist. Chandler has gone on to win Second Place in a national toy invention contest and has signed a royalty agreement with a toy company for his design. Our experience with robotics gave us the confidence to try these new things and to learn just how fun STEM can be.
Competing in international robotics competitions, we assumed every school in our country had a robotics team, but we were so wrong. We learned that our Nation is facing a STEM education crisis. Unfortunately, most people only consider this crisis at the college-level where less than 5% of US college students obtain engineering degrees (compared to 31% in China). But, how does this crisis impact kids, like the ones in your neighborhood?
WHO WANTS TO JOIN THE ROBOTICS CLUB???
It means that less than 15% of US elementary schools offer after-school STEM programs. This is happening when elementary schools are de-emphasizing STEM subjects in their curriculum. In a recent survey, 40% of California 1st-5th Grade teachers stated that they spend one hour or less on science per week. Had I gone to one of these schools, I never would have realized my passion for science and technology.
We founded RobotsNOW to give all elementary school students the same access to after-school STEM programs that we enjoyed.
Robotics is the perfect learning medium because it incorporates all STEM fields in a fun hands-on way. Building robots teaches:
Science - Using physics to design gear ratios that determine torque and speed;
Technology - Programming the robot to use various types of sensors;
Engineering - Utilizing the Engineering Design Process;
Math - Using geometry to calculate distance traveled based upon wheel rotation.
Building robots provides an opportunity to see how “boring” school subjects can be used in exciting ways. Moreover, most robotics platforms are based upon “Lego-like” building pieces that kids are extremely familiar and comfortable with using. Let’s face it…robots are cool!
Why We Need Your Help?
This summer, we began offering FREE week-long robotics camps for students (and their teachers!) at schools with limited budgets. By the end of each camp, nearly every student asks us if their school will be starting a robotics club because they want to join. The sad answer is “NO.”
These underfunded schools simply have no budget for robotics equipment. However, we’re convinced that if people only knew how much these kids need and love designing, building and programming robots, then they would help us raise enough money to donate robotics equipment to these schools.
Solving our Nation’s STEM education crisis may be a complex problem, but this isn’t. The schools where we are hosting our robotics camps have thousands of students who need after-school STEM programs and activities. This is a problem that we can easily solve together. And, if enough people follow our example, then every elementary school student will have access to after-school STEM programs. Perhaps, solving our Nation’s STEM education crisis isn’t that complex, after all.
Isn’t it Expensive?
Not really. For the cost to outfit and supply just ONE football player, RobotsNOW can source, sponsor and mentor an ENTIRE after-school robotics club that can help give students the confidence to excel in STEM subjects. For every $8000 we receive, we can donate, install and fully configure a robotics lab that can support EVERY student at an elementary school! For schools with existing laptops, it only costs $4,000 for a mobile robotics lab! To accompany these donations, RobotsNOW will mentor program sponsors and host additional free robotics camps to ensure these programs are successful!
Please help us ensure that the aspiring scientists and engineers who attended our robotics camps realize that they are “smart enough to do math and science.” Together, we can make a difference. I know this because we already have.