Teachers discussed the SOLID Learning model’s pilot program of robotics courses using personalized robot designs and color selection to improve STEM interest retention across a semester’s term. When discussing how schools could reduce costs for this program through self-manufacture of open hardware technologies such as the Arduino microcontroller, teachers expressed interest in SOLID Learning designs that could be entered as competitors for common robotics competitions like VEX, BEST and FIRST. Other competitions for flying quadrotors and submersible autonomous robots were also mentioned as a longer-term objective for consideration.
Teachers noted that many schools do not take part in these competitions because the competition kits, while priced for education, remain too expensive in the face of reducing public educational budgets. Even schools that participate in robotics competitions tend to focus their efforts on advanced studies classes to get the “best bang for the buck” through competition with other schools. By integrating SOLID Learning lessons and elements designed to produce open hardware solutions that fit the criteria for participation in the different standard robotics competitions, schools would be able to involve larger numbers of students in the development and classroom competitions leading up to the actual event for a fraction of the cost of competition kits.
3D Printed robot frames represent the SOLID Learning model for integration of rapid prototyping into educational settings, but the SOLID Learning elements could also include tasks such as hand-construction of Arduino control electronics, student design of robot body elements using TinkerCAD or Google SketchUp, and 3D printing of the designed STL files for testing or use in competitions.
Teachers from traditionally underrepresented and economically disadvantaged schools brought up the added value in terms of student engagement that would result from participating in official competitions using robots designed at all stages by their own fellows, when brought up against kit-built robots from more affluent schools. Students coming out of these competitions will also have a better resume of existing experience in robot planning, design, and implementation at a time when this career path offers many new opportunities for skilled and experienced professionals.
Main SOLID Learning link: Introduction to SOLID Learning