Learning equations through robots

Posted on: July 03, 2012

Upward Bound student Eric Slaughter programs his robot using a computer software program.

Some students learn math by scratching out lengthy equations on notebook paper — high school students in College of the Mainland’s Upward Bound Summer Program work with robots.

Last week, instructor Philippia Simmons introduced her Algebra 2 students to their new assignments — coffee mug-sized robots.

After algebra instruction, students put their math skills to use with the computer software program Parallax BASIC Stamp Editor. They input lines of code in the program to command to their robots called Boe Bots or Sumo Bots to move backward or forward, circle or sound off its alarm.

Eric Slaughter, 17, a junior at La Marque High School, enjoys the class.

“It’s one of my favorites," he said. “Ms. Simmons is the best teacher.”

As he talks, he programs his robot to walk across the table, catching it just before it falls off the edge.

The six-week academic program is giving him opportunity to learn new things and consider his interests and options after high school. “I have no idea what I’m going to major in,” he said. “I know it’s going to be something in science, though.”

After programming their robots, Eric and his classmate Michael Quintanilla have them “compete” in a circle made up of a grid surrounded by thick, white lines. Students program their robots to recognize the lines and stay within the circle. The winning robot is the one that best follows instructions to stay within the lines.

Simmons enjoys teaching the class. “It happens to be one of my passions,” she said. She formerly worked for Jacobs Technology on a system for the International Space Station and is now sharing her skills — and her passion — with students.

“They’re really good children, really self-motivated and driven,” Simmons said. “I think this is a really great thing for them. Some of them who are really interested in science and technology, they’ll need this [information].”

In addition to math, students in the summer academic program receive instruction in science, English, social studies and American Sign Language. The program continues through July 13.

COM’s Upward Bound is a federally funded program that helps low-income, first-generation students the opportunity to enhance academic and social skills needed for success in postsecondary education.

For more information on the program, call 409-933-8525.


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