HVPA Robotics Students Learn Coding and “Design-Thinking” Skills

HVPA Robotics Students Learn Coding and “Design-Thinking” Skills

The young scholars of the Robotics team at the Hudson Valley Pathways Academy (HVPA) at Ulster BOCES don’t just think about designing something. “They think about it, they do it, and then they build it!” said Science instructor Noah Smith.

This year, the Robotics students, known as the HVPA Dragons, were busy putting their learning to work in a fun, engaging game using ROMI robots, which are a miniature version of the 125-pound industrial-sized robots used in the NY Tech Valley Regional FIRST® Robotics Competition, a popular tournament the team has participated in during previous years. HVPA’s own tournament capped off a week’s-long learning unit, during which students developed literacy in the areas of robotics technology and coding.

Design-thinking skills are an important part of preparing students for a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields, Smith explained. “The goal was to build up students’ capacity in JAVA coding, an essential programming language for the robotics industry,” he said.

The self-paced, multi-layered project involved students first learning autonomously to write JAVA code in order to program the robots. They then worked together to navigate JAVA using Microsoft Visual Studio. In addition to Smith, the instructors included Social Studies teacher Matthew Fagan, Mathematics teacher Matthew Leifeld, English Language Arts (ELA) teacher Steve Masson, and student-teacher Nick Conrey.

The students each assembled their own robot, programmed it with code, checked to be sure it moved properly, and made the necessary modifications to the code if any issues were detected. When they formed teams or “crews,” students chose one robot to use in the game and worked together to keep it moving efficiently, honing their collaboration and communication skills, which employers have identified as essential to success.

Throughout the assignment, the students often switched teams, so that it wasn’t just a competitive activity, but a cooperative one, too. Students had a lot of positive feedback about the project and its culminating tournament. “We really had to work together and help each other out when we got stuck,” said Theron “T.J.” Shuman, a young scholar from the New Paltz Central School District.

“We had to learn quick-thinking and problem-solving,” said Robert “R.J.” Reilly-Shaw, a young scholar from the Kingston City School District. “And we also learned to use downtime to our advantage,” added Vincent Walters, also from the Kingston City School District.

Though it was not an easy project to execute, given the challenges of COVID-19 restrictions, Smith said the outcome was worth it. “This project really showcased the strength of Ulster BOCES, which is to be nimble and quick to respond. The ROMI robots were first put out on the market in December, and we were the first to get them out. HVPA administration and our home contact network worked to upgrade laptops and distribute ROMI packages to each student quickly and efficiently,” he said.

A video of “game day” is available on YouTube, and fans can follow the HVPA Dragons Robotics Team on their Instagram page, @TEAM7718.

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