Middle School Science & Math Teacher
Sacred Heart School
Melrose Park, IL
“The student teams’ ability to work together is key to succeeding with the missions…..they found this whole new world of engineering”.
Debbie Szeszko took an innovative approach to implementing the WaterBotics curriculum with her 7th and 8th grade students. She implemented the curriculum in the context of a Science Fair. Debbie has 15 years classroom experience, degrees in economics, math, and education, and currently teaches middle school science and math classes. She taught the WaterBotics curriculum over four consecutive days, with 45-minute class periods, over 9 weeks. Students worked in teams of 4 and each student was assigned a specific role, e.g., programmer, engineer, electrician, nautical engineer, etc. Students were randomly assigned to teams, which led to mixed gender groups, in which students with and without experience worked together.
Debbie commented, “The student teams’ ability to work together is key to succeeding with the missions. At the same time, the teams were competing with the other teams in the context of the Science Fair.” Debbie noted the student teams were highly engaged and quick to learn from one another, especially when they posted pictures of their robots on a dedicated website after each mission. Even though the student teams were competing with one another in the context of the Science Fair, they were highly supportive of one another, learning from one another and congratulating one another on their innovative ideas and design solutions.
Debbie’s students are largely second generation Hispanic students. “[The project] requirements gave [students] a valuable real-world context.” Their experience with WaterBotics “…was like they found this whole new world of engineering.”
The need for a pool was a challenge in Debbie’s school. However, she was able to find space in a basement room, although it could only accommodate a smaller pool than what the WaterBotics Educator manual called for. This solution sufficed. Although there are both challenges and benefits to implementing an underwater robotics program, Debbie noted that the need for water was the greatest challenge she experienced. For educators thinking of adopting the WaterBotics program, Debbie commented that it would be helpful if they made sure they had hands-on experience with all the roles involved, i.e., programming, electrical wiring, robot design, etc. so they could better assist the students.
In discussing some of the strengths of the program, Debbie noted, “The students loved the hands-on nature of the project and working on building something useful. They just lit up when they got to build the robot, wire it, etc.” Students actively coached one another throughout the project and Debbie noted several students blossomed in their roles as peer teachers and coaches.