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From Code to Creativity: Middle School Students Rev Up Robotics Skills in MMSD CTE Summer Course

From Code to Creativity: Middle School Students Rev Up Robotics Skills in MMSD CTE Summer Course

Gears are turning – both literally and figuratively – as young minds dive into the world of robotics and coding through MMSD’s free Career and Technical Education (CTE) Summer Discovery series.

The one-week summer camp brings together middle school students from across the district to explore intro coding lessons to program toy cars, drones and more. During one project, students coded a microcontroller to drive a three-inch, two-wheeled robot car, complete with ultrasonic sensors to avoid obstacles and LED lights. 

The hallway outside the Gillespie Middle School classroom became a makeshift racetrack as teams tested whose car could cross the masking tape finish line; one team even programmed their car to play the main theme song from “Star Wars” after winning. Another team demonstrated how they wired an electric motor to power a cardboard card using a rubberband. 

However, these lessons in STEM aren’t the only skills students are taking away from the class. Instructor Matt Dwyer, who teaches math at Toki Middle School, said participants learn a lot about central skills. As a former engineer, Dwyer knows first-hand how important it is to be able to work together as a team in STEM fields.

“This robotics and coding camp provides a lot of central skills, including communication and problem solving,” Dwyer said. “Sometimes this can be hard to achieve in a math class, but here, students are motivated by the hands-on tasks to work through the issue.” 

One student shared how she was practicing listening to her teammates and hearing everyone’s ideas before jumping into her own. Two more students said they were learning how to be patient when a code initially didn’t produce the results they wanted.

Before creating their own robot cars, the 20-student summer camp attended a field trip to UW-Madison’s People and Robots Laboratory, where they were able to interact with professionally developed robots.

“None of this would have been possible without our community partners, who provided space, time, and resources to accommodate and support all the amazing field trips," MMSD Career and Technical Education Specialist Nar Doumbya said.

Coding and Robotics is just one of nine programs offered through MMSD’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) Summer Discovery series for middle school students. Other courses include Business Entrepreneurship, Culinary, Engineering Design, Health Science, Journalism and Broadcasting, Carpentry, Electrical Skills and Plumbing.

“By participating in the program, students learn entry-level skills in a program of interest and gain a more accurate understanding of the requirements and opportunities in their potential careers of interest,” Doumbya said. “We hope they can make more informed decisions about their high school pathways. It's exciting to see students learn new skills while having fun.”