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Making STEM a Team Sport

Bringing Coding, Robotics to Elementary Students

You could tell the sixth-graders gathered in the Red Hawk Elementary cafeteria know there’s excitement ahead, but since this was just the second meeting of the new robotics team, they were just learning the rules to the upcoming challenge.

A few pored over their computers to show each other what they already knew; others chattered about the rules and some got hands-on experience putting together the basic robot kit. For the competition, each team is sent a set of rules for a game. Students will put together the basic robot from the provided kit and then customize it to compete in the game.

Cedar Springs High School, like many districts, has long fielded a robotics team that competes with FIRST Robotics, but this is the first time the district’s elementary students have been given the opportunity. Team expenses are being funded through a Michigan Department of Education grant.

Sixth-grader Cole French checks a connection during early stages of making a team robot
Sixth-grader Cole French checks a connection during early stages of making a team robot

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics was founded in Massachusetts in 1989 to help inspire students in technical fields. It has grown into an international organization hosting competitions around the world.

Students signed up for the experience for different reasons.

“I really wanted to learn about technology,” said sixth-grader Dylan Vincent.

“I thought it would be fun and I might meet some neat people,” said his classmate Dawson Niess.

Jack Cairy already knew a little coding when he joined the robotics team, but he was looking to learn more. “I would like to deepen my understanding about it,” he said. “And I can do itwith different people, not by myself.”

That is exactly the point, said Meghan Bartoszek, the robotics coach. “When students work together on a project (and) compete against other groups, they are motivated to do their best, she said. “It is a really good STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activity.”

Sixth-graders Kyla Robinson (left) and Natalie Trader work on the computer app with help from robotics coach Meghan Bartoszek
Sixth-graders Kyla Robinson (left) and Natalie Trader work on the computer app with help from robotics coach Meghan Bartoszek

Principal Miranda Latimer agrees.

“I brought robotics to Red Hawk to give our students the opportunity to learn more about technology, while applying their math and science knowledge,” Latimer said.

“It will also strengthen their problem-solving skills, ability to work as a team and prepare them for their future,” she added. “Knowing that a large number of our students will be working in careers that are focused on technology, this is a great way to create foundational skills and interest.”

Sixteen sixth-graders signed up to be involved and Bartoszek has a few parent volunteers as well. All are excited about robotics, she said.

“It is really important to me to support my daughter’s choices,” said parent Cathy Robinson. “She loves trying new things and I like to have her experience everything that she can. Last year I helped with Odyssey of the Mind and this year, she wanted to try robotics.”

The new team will have six weeks to build a robot to compete against others in their age group. Competition begins locally in January, proceeds to a state competition, with national championships held in May.


FIRST Robotics competitions

Robotics students work on coding
Robotics students work on coding
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Janice Holst
Janice Holst
Janice Holst was a reporter for SNN covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts.


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