John Gifford, Jasmin Barrajan, Rodolfo Cendejas
It may look like child’s play, but students in John Gifford’s class are studying robotics, physics and engineering at Riverside Poly High School. The robots students created with Lego pieces spin, scoot and follow basic commands that students have programmed into tiny computers called “bricks.” It was all made possible by a $5,000 grant from CTA’s Institute for Teaching (IFT), which enabled teachers to purchase the high-tech Lego Mindstorms and LabView programming software.
Riverside Unified School District has had a robotics team for the past three years, but lacked a class for the team members, who operated as an extracurricular club. Gifford felt that students needed a real class for a deeper understanding of robotics, engineering and physics - and that such a class might also help students do better at robotics competitions.
First the science teacher joined with educators from across the state to attend a UC Curriculum Integration workshop at UC Santa Barbara to develop a course that blends physics and technology. He brought back what he had learned, integrated it with robotics and engineering, and decided to pilot a course for the district called Physics Using Robotics and Engineering Course. When he received the IFT grant to purchase Lego bricks, his goal became a reality.
“Schools are under limitations and don’t have the money to support new ideas, so it was wonderful to receive an IFT grant to try something new,” says Gifford.
The Riverside County Office of Education submitted his curriculum to UC Riverside, which recently approved his course as a “lab class” meeting A-G requirements for CSU and UC admission. He hopes the pilot course will now spread to other district schools - and perhaps outside districts.
“I am very proud because the course is future-oriented,” says Gifford, a member of the Riverside City Teachers Association. “Students can investigate science, technology, engineering and math in an inquiry mode to further enhance their understanding. They will gain practical experience by programming, planning and testing robots - just like real engineers.”