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LAES Alumna Brings Robots to Local Elementary School to Introduce STEM Education

Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies (LAES) alumna Emily Anderson created a senior project that introduces young students to STEM education and will continue to make an impact on the local community.

teaching robots

Anderson, who focused in psychology and computer science in LAES, sought a senior project that would combine her interests and her passion for creating a more equitable computer science industry. Her project tackled all of these issues: she created an interactive STEM education program for students at Calvin C. Oakley Elementary School in Santa Maria.

Anderson brought robots to 5th grade Oakley students’ classroom and used them to teach students basic computer science skills. She focused lessons on combining STEM skills with storytelling, problem-solving, and team-building activities to create an interactive learning opportunity.

Emily Anderson

“[My goal was] to develop and implement a computer science education program for low income elementary school students in order to encourage academic achievement, equal opportunity, and diversity in the computer science industry itself,” Anderson said. “By aiming for the younger generation, and since income very often corresponds to race, going for a low-income elementary school also aims for increasing diversity as well.”

From obstacle courses for the robots, to solving puzzles, to untying “human knots,” Anderson created an interactive lesson plan to both excite and educate the students. Anderson talked with psychology and child development professors to design lessons that would be both enjoyable and educationally effective for students. She found that both enjoyment levels and learning retention levels were high among students who got to interact with the robots and participate in the activities.

“[The project] combines art and technology in a really interesting way,” LAES program director Dr. David Gillette said. “It combines the idea of storytelling with STEM education and teaching basic STEM related skills, and at the same time, connecting it with the idea of building a community and a story.”

Although Anderson recently graduated, her senior project will continue to impact the community. The project will be passed on to students for future senior projects, and it will be introduced as a project in LAES 301 and 302: Project Based Learning in Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies in the spring for students to further develop the program.

The Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies program will continue this partnership with Oakley Elementary and eventually plans to expand to partner with other local schools to offer this education to more children in the community.

“This project fits all the goals of our program — being helpful to our local community, and also encouraging combinations of science and technology and the arts and humanities in really interesting ways,” Gillette said.

Anderson said she hopes that this class can inspire students to pursue STEM regardless of any setbacks or obstacles.

“As a woman in STEM, I don’t think anyone ever really told me that these opportunities existed until really really late, and I wish I had that opportunity earlier on,” Anderson said. “I think kids are so malleable at that age — especially elementary school — that it should be introduced as soon as possible. If you teach the younger generation and the people who don’t necessarily have these resources, they may have an interest and pursue it as they get older.”


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