George Lucas Educational Foundation
Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Robotics Programs Thrive in Hawaii Schools

August 26, 2009

Recently, Hawaiian Airlines, in its in-flight magazine, ran an inspiring article titled "Kicking Bot" that every K-12 teacher in America should read as food for thought.

The anecdotes and supporting photos feature students engaged in robotics programs in Hawaii and remind us what education is all about: uncovering the hidden talents of our children and building new interests in skills sets for the 21st century. Robotics programs have grown exponentially in Hawaii, with nine qualifying state competitions each year.

This did not happen overnight; the robotics programs owe their existence and success to insightful collaborative partnerships between a triad of government, business, and education:

  • The Hawaii state legislature directs funding to the University of Hawaii's College of Engineering to work with school communities in robotics for students. Robotics programs in Hawaii were allocated over a million dollars during the last school year in an economy that is now looking to our students for future creative-sector jobs in research and design, as well as entrepreneurship.
  • The state's Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism provides oversight and assistance to schools through scholastic robotics programs and funding for a progression of competitions from local to state to national scope, and even at an international level. This is evidenced in its 2009-11 Yearly Activity Plan.
  • Hawaii's K-12 schools maximize this expertise and support to engage students in contextual learning activities related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in order to build future interests and dreams in exciting STEM careers such as medicine, biotech, engineering, aerospace, robotics, land conservation, and marine science.

An excellent illustration of "Kicking Bot" is happening at Waialua High Robotics, on Oahu's North Shore, where the K-12 First Robotics program, managed by Glenn Lee, aligns with Hawaii's standards-based student assessment of life skills. Students are initially taught the value of communication, teamwork, collaboration, quality control, integrity, responsibility, creativity, and talent/skill diversity.

Art Kimura, retired from the University of Hawaii and now leading Future Flight Hawai'i, has steadily worked over two decades to build the robotics programs through the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Teacher in Space Project, NASA grants, and interested corporate sponsors.

Kimura's hard work and dedication have paid off handsomely for the students of Hawaii as their robotics projects build serious interest from NASA and corporations. Kimura's legacy now includes high school students being offered patents for their ideas as they work with NASA as educational interns at the space agency's Ames Research Center.

When high school students place top honors in university level robotic competitions, you know that the future is already here. Our digital natives are proving to us that innovation is not connected to how old they are, but rather how well they can think outside the box.

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