Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Steve Sayers: Project-Based Learning

December 3, 2001

Steve Sayers, coach of the robotics team at Poudre High School in Fort Collins, Colorado, describes how students benefit from collaborating on the design of a working robot.

1. How does the Poudre High School Robotics Team bring together students with diverse skills and interests?

What I ask kids to do is tell me what they're interested in, and the robotics program is so inclusive that I guarantee them a spot on the robotics team. And I don't care if all they want to do is work on computers. Well, we've done a ton of stuff. We have programming. We have CNC [Computer Numerical Control]. We have animation. We have debugging. We have working with motors. Then we have the mechanics, whether the mechanical engineers or more hands-on mechanics. We can build a robot. We can design the robot using Solid Works and Autodesk products. We have an ability to use many technologies there. Artists. We have an incredible need for artists, designing the aesthetics of the robot.

I guarantee any kid, I can get him a position. A position that they will hold and they will take very seriously -- it's their individual responsibility to succeed.

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2. What is the role of adult mentors in the robotics education program?

They really promote that engineers are an essential part of the program and with that, if you get the engineers in there, it's not about the engineers showing, it's about helping them out while they do it. It's the engineers leading the way, saying, in the professional world this is the process, these are the sort of the technologies that we use. And, with that the kids should be and are right next to those engineers while they're making those decisions. Instead of asking, what do we do next? They're asking, why did you do that? And with that, then they're getting that explanation from a real-world engineer, from somebody who's been there, somebody who knows how the whole system works.

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3. How do your students benefit from their participation in Poudre High School’s robotics program?

What's really nice is that they do get the hands-on experience. They get to do. With all the philosophies of teaching, one is hammered over and over again. That when students listen, they listen and they kind of get it. And then students speak out and they kind of get it a little bit better. But when students do, they remember. And they remember so well, that they just can't wait for the next year, when they've remembered everything that they've done in the previous years and they take it to the next level.

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4. What is the atmosphere like at the regional and national competitions?

It is a competitive atmosphere. You are out there and you want to do well and you're fired up because you put your life and soul into this. But at the same point, it's got that feeling of I don't know, not of family, but we all have shared the exact same experience and so we have an understanding from everybody. Everybody there is happy to see everybody else. You bump elbows with anyone and it's an invitation to talk about where are you from, what did you do, oh, you did that. And that doesn't happen very often. Especially with the high school, the way things are set up.

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