Robotics for Middle School Students

by Nathan Koniowka

Dave Kopf, the technical education teacher at JC McKenna Middle School, received an EEF grant for the interactive and openly creative VEX robotics kits. This grant expanded the technology education department of the middle school, allowing all three grades (6th,7th,and 8th) to experience building and programming creative, problem solving robots. With these newly-acquired robotics kits there is the possibility of starting a robotics club at the middle school, offering many other opportunities for students to be creative and explore programming and robotics.

Using these kits, students can build anything from cars to conveyor belts with the use of metal frames, base plates, and slides, alongside of gears, buttons, and all kinds of switches. Along the way students will create, modify, and troubleshoot both the programming and building of their creations. The idea for the grant came about via email, and grew from there.

The units in which the VEX kits start out with lesson 1, in which the students learn the multiple applications of robotics and the effects they may have on our lives. For each of the six units a career activity option is provided, allowing for students to create something that could be used in a certain career. In lesson 2, Mechanical Systems, students use the components of the VEX kits to build mechanical systems, determining their purpose and real world use. In Lesson 3, automated systems, using the VEX kits and ROBOTC programming language, students build, model, and test solutions to automated problems. At the end of the class, after learning how to program a car, the students are able to have a scaled-down version of robot wars, making cars equipped with systems that can be used to fight other cars.