Indiana students learn STEM through robotics as young as elementary school

A member of the "Beast Bots" student robotics team at Franklin Township Middle School East in Indianapolis works on one of the team's robots Feb. 12, 2019. (WTHR Photo/Jim Johnston)
Published:
Updated:

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - By now you've probably heard all the studies supporting the importance of STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math.

Now, more than 1,500 schools across our state support robotics teams which helps teach STEM and allows kids to compete with others around the world.

Samantha Warner oversees the robotics team, “Beast Bots,” at Franklin Township Middle School East. They meet twice a week to build robots, run computer programs, and work on obstacles with robots to prepare for competitions.

student robotics
One of the robots created by the "Beast Bots" student robotics team at Franklin Township Middle School East in Indianapolis, Feb. 12, 2019. (WTHR Photo/Jim Johnston)

It's fun and also educational.

"I love technology … and math and science is also really cool,” Franklin Township Middle School East 8th grader Gavin Barnes tells me. Barnes has competed at the world championships, and he’s been a team member of Beast Bots since 6th grade. He's learned a lot about science, technology, engineering and math. But, there are also other benefits, like making new friends. "I knew a few of them before robotics, but I met a lot of them through robotics,” Barnes tells me.

That's what George Giltner wants. George is the VP of STEM Education for TechPoint Foundation for Youth. He helps launch robotics teams in schools across the state.

"It teaches the kids everything we want to teach them in the classroom - how to think, how to problem solve, how to think critically, how to work together as a team," Giltner says.

Initially, many of these robotics teams around the state were started thanks to grants from former Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. Before those grants, Indiana had 70 robotics teams. Indiana now has more than 1,000 elementary programs. If you include middle school, that jumps to more than 1,500 teams, more than any other state. Giltner’s goal is to get robotics teams in every Indiana school.

The objective for TechPoint Foundation for Youth is preparing students for the workforce. It may even encourage more students to stay in the state and attend universities like Purdue or Rose-Hulman, known for their success in STEM fields.

"We're not necessarily trying to create engineers. We're trying to create young leaders in any field that they want to go in,” Giltner says.

"It's a great way to use my brain,” Taylor Waterman, an 8th grader at Franklin Township Middle School East tells me. Taylor also competes in volleyball and compares robotics teams to any other sport. More than 50 percent of the students on robotics teams in Indiana are girls. Giltner says this is by far the most evenly balanced girl-to-boy ratio in the country.

Samantha Warner has seen the difference in her son, an 8th grader who's been on robotics teams since elementary school.

“STEM can be a career that he can help others, so it's not just about tinkering anymore, it's like, 'How can I make a difference in the world?'" Warner says.

Starting in 2020, TechPoint Foundation for Youth will start offering grants to Indiana high schools. Teachers can ask the group about grants for their classrooms. The grant for schools is currently a $560 value. Giltner says no money changes hands, as schools are awarded directly with equipment and services including robotics professional development trainings, kits, curriculum, team registration cost for competitions and more.

By the way, Indiana's state championship is hosted at Lucas Oil stadium and is the 2nd largest robotics competition in the world.

A member of the "Beast Bots" student robotics team at Franklin Township Middle School East in Indianapolis works on one of the team's robots Feb. 12, 2019. (WTHR Photo/Jim Johnston)
One of the robots created by the "Beast Bots" student robotics team at Franklin Township Middle School East in Indianapolis, Feb. 12, 2019. (WTHR Photo/Jim Johnston)
A member of the "Beast Bots" student robotics team at Franklin Township Middle School East in Indianapolis poses for a photo Feb. 12, 2019. (WTHR Photo/Jim Johnston)
A member of the "Beast Bots" student robotics team at Franklin Township Middle School East in Indianapolis uses a remote control to maneuver one of the team's robots Feb. 12, 2019. (WTHR Photo/Jim Johnston)
One of the robots created by the "Beast Bots" student robotics team at Franklin Township Middle School East in Indianapolis, Feb. 12, 2019. (WTHR Photo/Jim Johnston)
Two members of the "Beast Bots" student robotics team at Franklin Township Middle School East in Indianapolis look on as teammates work on one of the team's robots Feb. 12, 2019. (WTHR Photo/Jim Johnston)