THE ROBOTICS PROGRAM AT MEADOWRIDGE
Learning with challenge, with direction, and with each other
Ms. Carrie Mohoruk is no robot enthusiast.
Not long ago, she had never designed, programmed, or built one. She did not care to watch them move, see them light up, or hear them whiz around. Simply put, robots "did nothing," for the Diploma Programme (DP) Chemistry Teacher. And yet, robots now seem to run her life. Ms. Mohoruk dedicates her mornings, afternoons and evenings to them. She spends her weekdays and weekends with them. She even started the several robotics clubs at our school.
So, what gives?
"I do not love robots," Ms. Mohoruk confirms, "but seeing kids smile when their robot finally moves, after days and days and days of work? That makes me do a happy dance." For the reluctant robotics instructor, its these moments that make it all worthwhile.
Ms. Mohoruk actually stumbled into robotics by accident. Five years ago she was looking for ways Meadowridge students could practice the technology and engineering aspects of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in real, hands-on ways. Determined to introduce something at the school, her first attempt was 'The Collective', a CAS club providing students a space and some time to explore independent coding projects. The interest was there—lots of students and even a few staff members showed up—but without any direction or challenge, motivation was hard to maintain. Ms. Mohoruk realized students needed something to work towards, together. "Kids are kids," she explains, "even if they are interested, they still need someone to push them and somewhere they need to go." So, she shifted her attention to find what that something might be.
It's then that she discovered First Lego League, a robotics-based program which has students research real-world problems, find solutions and build complex robots to solve challenges. Through robotics, all the skills Ms. Mohoruk hoped to teach could be taught. Through the league, students could learn them with challenge, with direction, and with each other. The program was about much more than just science and technology. Students would build robots, yes, but they would build them (and program them and design them) so that they could explore new ideas, improve the world, and help one another. In Ms. Mohoruk's words, the program was "so IB."
Bringing Robotics to MeadowridgeThe following year, the Robotics Club was added as a Creativity, Activity, and Service (CAS) Club. Offered for the first time, and as one of the few clubs requiring both during- and after-school participation, Ms. Mohoruk wondered if the extra commitment and challenge would scare some students off. Unsure if she'd get anyone at all, 16 students signed-up, excited for the new offering and ready to learn. Unpacking their kits for the first time, Ms. Mohoruk, Mr. Lester and the students got to work. That first year would be one of discovery.
With something to work towards, students were finally motivated. Working with robots was a new endeavor, but the excitement of a challenge kept students' interest alive. The year passed by quickly, and the group was soon off to their first competition in Victoria, BC. Back then, still in its first year, only four students could attend. As newcomers, no one—neither students nor the coaches—knew what to expect. By day's end it was clear the league had been the right choice. Everything Ms. Mohoruk had suspected of the League was confirmed: FIRST LEGO League had been the right move.
The first FTC event was amazing, and could be described only as "one ginormous help session." The competition was a community event, with all the teams working together to figure things out; teams swapped advice, support, and even parts and pieces. Collaboration was a large part of the competition, as was outreach, teamwork, and core values. Our teams didn't come away with awards that day, but what they earned was even better.
Since then, Ms. Mohoruk's motivation has only grown.
Building the Program, Interest and Intention
In addition to the Grade 6 to 8 CAS Club, Robotics is now offered to students in Grades 4 and 5 as an afterschool club, as well as ran as a CAS project by students in Grades 11. Robotics is reaching more and more students each year. Overall, there's about 60 students signed up across the school. "That's nearly one-tenth of the school," Ms. Mohoruk stops to reflect, smiling, "and I'll keep going as long as the interest is there." The skills developed by being part of a robotics team are ones that prepare students for such a wide range of professions in the future. Teamwork, patience, persistence, problem solving, communication... these are the skills that will support success in any area.
Of course, Ms. Mohoruk doesn't rely on student sign-up alone. She is always on the hunt for potential talent, actively recruiting and getting students to show up. When she's out supervising, she's talking to kids, listening to their priorities and interests "If we're just talking to kids who already like robots, we're failing," she explains. Ms. Mohoruk sets her sights on students who would benefit from robots but might not know it yet. Once apprehensive about robots herself, she has her pitch down pat. Interested in art? Great, the robotics team needs banners and posters and designs. Coding? Perfect, a website needs to be built. 3D Printing? Yep, there's room for that too.
Plans are only evolving with time.
Robotics at Meadowridge continues to grow at the helm of Ms. Mohoruk, whose focus is on its continued improvements and student interest. "I told myself from the get-go that if I was going to do this..." she concludes, "I was going to make it worthwhile." That's why whenever she isn't teaching, Ms. Mohoruk is hosting, recruiting, managing, supporting, designing, fundraising, traveling and researching in the name of robotics. It is a considerable undertaking, but the motivation is simple: robotics is about supporting and challenging students, helping them to be ready for whatever life they choose to lead, and that makes it all worthwhile.