The School Robotics Initiative (SRI) serves a critical need in public schools by promoting elementary-school student interest in careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Since 2006, the SRI has worked with elementary and middle schools in Pomona and Walnut Valley school districts to develop and implement an innovative robotics curriculum that has successfully served over 750 students representing diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and achievement levels. This year alone, SRI schools will serve up to 450 students in grades 4 through 8. During weekly classroom sessions, participating students use LEGO® Mindstorms NXT robotics invention kits to develop expertise in robotics design and construction as well as targeted knowledge and skills in math, science, writing and technology. The curriculum supports emergent mathematical and scientific thinking and has strong ties to the California Common Core Standards for Mathematics, as well as national standards in, science, literacy, and technology.
The SRI is a growing network of robotics classrooms – that will serve elementary through high school students and will function as a pathway into post-secondary study and technical careers. All robotics activity occurs during the regular school day to insure that a diverse range of students benefits from the program. Student work culminates with a year-end robotics competition, hosted by Cal Poly Pomona, which motivates students to produce quality work, exposes them to the college environment, and most importantly, helps them develop a sense of belonging.
As an added benefit, the participating teachers receive on-the-job professional development in the math-focused problem-driven curriculum. The ability of participating teachers to learn the robotics curriculum and lead robotics activity in the absence of the university robotics team continues to ensure the success of the program.
Currently, the SRI operates in 10 classrooms within 6 schools in the Pomona Unified School District, and the Walnut Valley Unified School District. In Pomona, the participating schools are Montvue, and Kinsley Elementary, and Emerson Middle Schools. The participants in Walnut Valley are Collegewood, and Evergreen Elementary, and Suzanne Middle School. The schools each represent very different sides of the socioeconomic spectrum. During the 2010-11 school year 77% of students at Pomona Unified School District qualified for free or reduced price lunches, 36% of these students were English language learners; and based on the 2010 US Census data, only 15% of the Pomona population over the age of 25 had graduated with a bachelor's degree. Walnut Valley Unified School District is considered to be a high-performing district from a middle-class community with only 13% of the students participating in the free or reduced lunch program and 9% were English language learners during the same time period. The decision to work with the two districts with disparate socioeconomics was based on the desire to harness the learning benefits to students, both academically and socially, that result from interacting in culturally and socially heterogeneous learning environments.
Cal Poly Pomona's Involvement
Cal Poly Pomona remains committed to providing quality programs which engage faculty and students in the community. Programming like the SRI afford faculty with the opportunity to direct their expertise in an applied way in the areas of greatest need in educating our youth for success in the STEM disciplines. Spear-headed by mathematics-education faculty member Dr. César Larriva in collaboration with psychology professor Dr. Jill Nemiro, the SRI is a unique program that engages faculty from multiple disciplines in collaboration with local teachers. Larriva provides direct instruction and program leadership, while Dr. Nemiro performs a key role in the project's research and evaluation. Dr. Larriva's twenty years of teaching experience, began with six years as a high school bilingual mathematics teacher within LAUSD. He holds a bachelor's degree in engineering, a master's degree in curriculum and a Ph.D. in Education from Stanford University. Dr. Nemiro is a co-Principal Investigator on a large-scale ADVANCE National Science Foundation grant awarded to CPP. The objective of this research is to assess and design processes to help recruit and retain female faculty in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math within the CSU system. Both faculty leaders have successful track records in the STEM disciplines.
Statistics in Pomona Unified School District demonstrate there is a great need to inspire these young minds to take a path not frequently followed in their communities: attending college. The SRI's long-term goal is to expand the robotics program to additional schools within the Pomona Unified School Districts to include a high school component. By bringing robotics instruction into the classroom at such an early age, professors are laying the foundation for engineering, math and science curriculum taught at the college level. The Robotics Initiative motivates students to consider pursuing STEM career paths by exposing girls and underrepresented minority students to fields of study they frequently do not enter.