George Lucas Educational Foundation
Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Janet Tsai: Project-Based Learning

December 3, 2001

Janet Tsai, a student participant in the Poudre High School robotics club, describes the program's influence on her plans for the future.

1. What do you enjoy most about the Poudre High robotics program?

I think the hands-on experience I've gained from working on this project has just been absolutely phenomenal. I've learned a lot of things. Mainly the things that I designed, or things that I helped conceive of, have come to life. And it's really neat the way in robotics and in this program in particular, it's the students themselves who are designing the robot and it's the students themselves who are fabricating the robot and then it's the students themselves who actually get to see it come to life. And seeing it come to life is really neat because first of all it shows what you can do yourself and how you can apply the knowledge you've learned, but then it also shows how much you still have to learn.

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2. How has your participation on the robotics team affected your plans for the future?

I was always considering engineering as a career option but then actually being part of an engineering process, which every year the robotics program is -- it is an engineering process -- that it just shows you exactly what you'd be getting into if you were actually to choose that profession. ... Being part of the robotics program and enjoying the robotics program, that indicates to me that I would probably like engineering and that I would probably like some kind of applied science because more and more in the search for college, it seems that the decision I myself have to make is the difference between pure science and applied science. So the robotics really shows you some applied science, I think, and in that way it's helped me kind of decide which direction my career will take.

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3. How have you benefited from working with mentor engineers?

As for the knowledge I've gained from them, it's been very, very helpful. They've just taught me things, just about, I guess basic physics, basic mechanics, you know, pulleys, levers, forces, and everything.

But I think even more important than that, something that you can't learn anywhere else, is the kind of professional interaction skills that they've taught the whole robotics team. I know myself, I was perhaps a little timid when the program first started because I didn't know a lot. So I was kind of afraid to express my opinions and to make myself heard. ... So talking to the mentors and having them listen to you and having them respect your ideas, just gives you a sense of empowerment, perhaps. It makes you seem like you know more and I think that sense is important, perhaps, like in the real world, if I am to become an engineer and I will be put in those situations where you have to share your ideas with a group of people that you don't know that well, but that you hope will respect you and that you hope will understand you.

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4. How has this experience helped you and other students learn to work together?

I think it's just made everyone learn to get along because we are working as part of a team and we're all working towards a common goal. And to get to that common goal, we all need to work together and listen to everyone's ideas in the sense that's even more important than just working for a school project. Because when you're working for a school project, you're just working for a grade, whereas this, there is no grade and it's just for fun.

But what you want to produce is something tangible. It's something real. And then when people don't listen to each other, you can see that in the robot, I think. You can see that if the frame team didn't talk to the arm team, for instance, you can see how those kind of clash. I think that this program really helps students, especially I guess a typical nerdy high school student learn to talk to other people and learn to bond with other people because it's absolutely necessary for the final project to be successful.

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