Algebra curriculum for VEX Robotics class still being fleshed out

Courtesy photo Director of Education Strategy for Robomatter Inc. Jason McKenna addresses members from the team working to create an Algebra 1 curriculum for the VEX robotics class, available for students at Nashua High School North and Nashua High School South.

NASHUA – Starting next year, students in Nashua High School North and South’s Engineering Pathway Program will receive a direct approach for Algebra 1, specifically in their VEX Robotics class.

This has been in the works since September. The New Hampshire Department of Education awarded the Nashua Technology Center with a $50,000 grant to pilot a Career Technical Education based Algebra I course for the 2019-20 academic term, with the help of various representatives through research and feasibility testing.

Director of Nashua Technology Center North Amanda Bastoni and members of her team have been working together to create a curriculum for the course. On the team are New Hampshire Teachers of Mathematics President Rob Lukasiak and Nashua Community College representative Christine Morris, along with head math teachers and teachers from other CTE centers.

Two weeks ago, Bastoni and members of her team visited Robomatter Inc. headquarters in Pittsburgh to seek guidance on creating an Algebra 1 curriculum. Robomatter is a company that offers curriculum guidance for technology and engineering.

While in Pittsburgh, the team worked with Robomatter Director of Education Strategy Jason McKenna and CEO Tim Friez. Bastoni said both were thrilled to help.

McKenna said the team contacted them from a consolidating perspective. Robomatter has partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to conduct research on how to use VEX robotics as a tool to create Algebra 1 courses.

McKenna said as a former teacher, he knows educators are always looking for better ways to reach students.

“We think robotics can be motivational to those who might not otherwise be interested in math,” McKenna said. “I think it can give students an opportunity to communicate, elaborate and do a lot of the skills that teachers are looking to insert into math. Hopefully, we will see more schools doing this in the future.”

McKenna also said incorporating robotics into algebra will create authentic situations for students.

“If you are trying to teach the slope intercept formula and you are teaching y=mx+b and you’re having them just solve that equation, you often get the question, ‘When will I ever use this in real life?’ With a robot, you can use that same formula to determine the speed of your robot,” McKenna said. “It gives a lot more engagement.”

McKenna said traditional CTE classes tend to be hands-on classes, so being able to take those abstract concepts and make them concrete for students is valuable.

“I think it makes a lot of sense to explore those things with a robot, as just opposed to paper and pencil,” McKenna added.

McKenna sees this curriculum as being very beneficial and progressive in education, as long as it proves effective.

“We have peer-reviewed research that shows it’s effective. And one of the things (Bastoni and her team) want to do through this grant is to continue to study the results of the curriculum and make the best possible curriculum for students,” he said.

McKenna continued, “If you give teachers tools that really allow them to have these highly engaged classrooms, then teachers have a great experience which allows them to investigate further and then the students have a great experience. What you do is you create this cycle, where teachers are able to be successful, which allows students to be successful.”

Grace Pecci can be reached at 594-1243, or at gpecci@nashuatelegraph.com.