Michael D. Clark reports:
The hands that one day help American students close the international gap in math and science skills may be those of their homemade robots.
Robotics clubs in grades K-12 are growing in popularity across the region and nation. Educators and high-tech experts embrace the mechanized invasion, saying the task-oriented competitions require science and math abilities and may eventually boost the nation’s international standing in those skills.
“This is a good thing, and the kids are passionate about this stuff,” says Dan Humpert, director for the University of Cincinnati’s Center for Robotics Research.
Patrick Wensing, co-chair of a national robotics student activities board and a researcher on robotics at Ohio State University, says, “It’s crazy what these kids can do. And if we can get to the point where more of them are learning science and math, it will be good for our country and good for our economy.’’
The United States could use the boost.
For years, American students have lagged behind those of many industrialized countries. This month’s release of the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study revealed that students in Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Finland and other nations still outperform American fourth- and eighth-graders.
A 2011 study by Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance ranked the U.S. behind 31 other countries in math proficiency. Similar studies for years have shown similarly low rankings for science and technology aptitude among American youth.
The broader appeal of robotics clubs, already popular internationally, might eventually help change that.
Humpert estimates there are about 300 elementary and high-school robotics teams in Greater Cincinnati, twice as many as three years ago.
Fred Strange, a staffer at Grant’s Lick Elementary in Campbell County, is a veteran robotics team coach.
“Ten years ago there were about 20 teams in Northern Kentucky, and now there are about 150-180,’’ he says.
Earlier this year a team composed of Lakota, Mason and Loveland high-school students finished seventh among 2,000 domestic and international competitors in a robotics championship in St. Louis. (more…)