Written by: Amanda Wu, FCSN Voices Youth Reporter
Graphics by: Kristina Guo, FCSN Voices Graphic Artist
In the spring of 2023, Team Alphabots, a FIRST Tech Challenge robotics team, hosted a series of 8 weekly Lego robotics classes to introduce FCSN students to engineering and programming skill sets. With the mission of spreading awareness of STEM fields to young and underprivileged students in the Bay Area, Alphabots’ nonprofit organization, Alphabots4All, reached out to FCSN hoping to assist special needs students in developing an interest in robotics. In Alphabots4All’s lessons, students use the Lego WeDo2 sets, software, and instructional manuals to build projects and learn to code.
The Spring Lego classes were held at FCSN’s Chenming and Margaret Hu Center from 9:30 AM to 10:30 AM on Sundays. Alphabots offers two levels of courses, intermediate and advanced, to cater to students of all skill levels.
There are six instructors for the class: James (sophomore at Basis Independent Fremont), Nathan (junior at Saint Francis High School), Kevin (8th grader at Stratford), Eric (8th grader at Stratford), Victor (freshman at Mission San Jose High School), and Andy (8th grader at Prince of Peace). James is the instructor for the advanced class, while Victor, Kevin, Nathan, Andy, and Eric teach the intermediate class.
A typical hour-long class involves instructors presenting the instruction manual and guiding students through a step-by-step building and coding process. Students learn building and programming techniques; sometimes they are even challenged to create their own program for the finished product instead of following the coding manual. Every two weeks, on average, the students will have completed a project that can perform general tasks, such as a modeled Lego car that uses its sensors to determine when to drive and stop.
With a wide range of diverse students in the class, it can be difficult to keep everyone on the same page. With this challenge in mind, Alphabots teachers have multiple volunteer assistants to ensure that all students are understanding the content of the lessons. By doing so, the instructors maximize students’ comprehension and learning experiences.
These classes have brought great satisfaction to both the students and the instructors. After completing a project, the students’ excitement of watching the robot come to life brought all instructors great fulfillment. In addition, the students are having fun not only while developing engineering skills but also while creating friendships with other classmates and helping each other when needed.
James, Victor, Nathan, Kevin, Eric, and Andy have learned patience and empathy from these lessons while enhancing their teaching skills. In the future, they hope to focus on making custom manuals a bit more simplified, as “what appears simple to us [instructors] may not be as simple for the students, due to the gap in experiences.” In addition, they hope to fit each project into one lesson; this way, the students will be able to view their results at the end of class instead of anticipating the finished product for a week. In the future, Alphabots wishes to continue serving the FCSN family and striving toward its goal of spreading robotics knowledge throughout the special needs community.