MANSFIELD, TX — “The more experiences we can give kids in different ways, the
better they are,” explained Monica Abrams, a science exploratory teacher and robotics coach at Mary Orr Intermediate School.
Robots are built out of LEGOs, and a “brain,” programmed
from a computer, is attached to the piece. Sensors are linked
onto the robot and connected through wires onto the brain, thus
allowing it to move. Some of these sensors are light, movement
and color. For instance, a robot can be programmed to turn
around as soon as it senses light, the color red or any movement.
As such, Monica has found her intermediate students do math
willingly without even realizing it. If a student wants the robot to
move forward and then turn around, he or she would program
it to do so. However, the students must divide the distance, as
well as accommodate for the circumference of the tire. “There is
so much math that goes with this, but they have no idea they’re
doing it,” she laughed. “It’s making math fun, and doing 21st
century skills is encouraging and fun for the kids.”
Monica started a robotics after-school program in 2011 at
Willie Brown with fourth-graders and then continued the
legacy at Mary Orr when she transferred. She has had
upward of 50 students who attend robotics club at least once a week to learn about their robot and get ready for competition. But Mary Orr isn’t the only school participating. Ashley Coffman, an educational technology trainer, was instrumental in getting robotics into classrooms and extracurricular programs around the district. The Mansfield ISD Education Foundation, Mansfield ISD Technology Department and LEGO Education Smart Schools have invested more than $100,000 into the robotics initiative.
The Mary Orr team has been highly successful in both of the major robotics competitions. They even competed on the high school level, mini tree or picking up red checkers, which symbolized medicine or food.
Another aspect of the competition is invention, where students have an open-ended challenge to create anything they wish. The first year,
these 9- and 10-year-olds devised a Litter Bot. This contraption was designed to pick up any litter it spotted. The next year, these smart kids created F.E.A.D., short for Feed Every Animal Daily. An animal needed only to push down on a lever and food would pour out for it. After a few hours, the animal can go back and push down again for another meal. “Inventions is all about seeing a problem and finding a solution for it,” Monica shared. Both years, the team has advanced to state for their inventions and arena, while D.P. Morris Elementary also moved forward in the arena competition.
The second competition, FIRST LEGO League (FLL), is an international meet that draws teams from 70 different countries each year. Students can compete in different areas, including a robot game where students build and program an autonomous robot to score points on a themed playing field. Donna Shepard Intermediate advanced to the regional championships in the
FLL competition last year, a first for Mansfield ISD’s Problem solving is a valuable skill in robotics. For their first competition, the Willie Brown team misread the instructions, resulting in a low score in the first round of competition. Because parents and coaches are not allowed on the floor during competition, the students had to devise their own solution. “I was so proud of them,” Monica recalled. “They went back and fixed it. They weren’t told how to, and they didn’t whine about it or say they were quitting.
They just fixed the mistake.” Most of the robots have wheels and look similar to a small motorized car.
But many of the students have taken the initiative and creativity to progress to the next level. For Mary Orr’s Multicultural Day, students in the robotics club wanted to create a snake to decorate their area.
Although there is a kit the students could buy to make the snake, they were resourceful with what they had and built a curled snake out of green LEGOs. They then programmed it to reach out and snap its jaw at any passersby. “It was a hit. Everyone wanted to touch it,” Monica explained. Another student followed a similar route to build a walking elephant.
Parent support has been invaluable to the success of Mary Orr’s robotics club. “The parents support the students, provide transportation to the competitions, allow their children to stay after school or come early. They also serve as mentors to the teams,” Monica shared. “They are the key to a successful team.” The parents and coaches of all robotics clubs throughout the district have seen great benefits in robotics.
Students are actively engaged in their own learning and have developed strong interest in math, science and technology. These 10- and 11-year-olds have also learned to make achieving goals a habit and to be self-thinkers who appreciate the value of self-motivation.
“I love to get kids to ask questions,” Monica shared. “I love when I hear ‘What if, what if, what if?’ because that’s how you’re going to learn. ‘What if?’ Get out there and see what happens.”
Written by Mikaela Mathews/