Photos by Anika Ramos and Caitlin Barbour
On December 5, the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics team, with the help of volunteers from VEX Robotics, National Honor Society, Video Game Club, Science Club and Mililani Middle School’s FIRST LEGO team, hosted a Hour of Code community event in the MHS cafeteria. Hour of Code started as a one hour introduction to computer science by Code.org, held annually during Computer Science Education Week. Over the years, it has grown into a global event with millions of participants and has now made its way to Mililani.
“It aligns with our mission as a FIRST team that we want to make sure that people know that STEM can be for everyone. It’s this big scary thing ‘cause it’s always a challenging course but in certain doses it’s very accessible to everyone and the skills that you develop by doing STEM and computer science is transferable to a lot of different professions, a lot of different subjects. It’s not just about the subject matter, it’s not just about the knowledge, it’s about developing the skills that go beyond just the STEM fields. So the overall goal of this is just to kinda show that like computer science can be for everyone in some shape or form,” said FIRST Robotics advisor Tyson Kikugawa.
While not being the first Hour of Code event to be hosted in Mililani, it was the first of this scale. The FIRST Robotics team hosted not only the community event, but also went to Kipapa Elementary School three times in the week to lead different grade levels in a programming activity. “When we initially proposed it we sent out kind of feeler emails to the elementary schools asking if they wanted to do their own Hour of Code and if they wanted our help. But at the same time, we wanted to also address our school, so we kinda tossed the idea of doing it right after school just for the high school students and doing an hour from like 3:00 to 4:00 and, or we can do one for the community. So after we discussed it as a team the consensus was to go for the community one that way it opens it up to a bigger reach,” said Kikugawa.
Each year, Code.org provides different tutorials and programs that interested teachers can use if they want to host a Hour of Code. The FIRST Robotics team decided to use the Dance Party activity at Kipapa, which many students seemed to have fun playing around with. “This year’s theme is ‘creativity’ and for their Hour of Code Dance Party activity it’s meant to introduce them to the basics of coding and programming, but in a way that’s different from your normal classroom experience. It’s meant to be something that allows them to explore their creativity. So there are different animals that they can code, they got a whole bunch of different dance moves and songs that they can pick from to code the animals to dance those songs. So it’s really up to them how much they want to do it,” said Kikugawa.
At the community night, there were other programs offered by Code.org, in addition to original activities and stations provided by the different volunteers. In the cafeteria there were a variety of stations, from “Code Your Name Bracelets” to a demo operating the Sphero. There were also three 30 minute breakout sessions were held in nearby classrooms. Each activity incorporated some form of coding in a way that would interest the elementary and middle school students who participated. “There will be a ‘programming playground’ in the cafe with fun unplugged and plugged activities — with or without computers. For example, one of the unplugged activities is ‘Conditional Statement Simon Says’ where students play Simon Says, but instead of the phrase ‘Simon says,’ it is some other statement like ‘if time less than three seconds,’” said Project Manager of FIRST Robotics Jasmine Chase. Assistant Project Manager of FIRST Robotics Evan Takushi added, “The breakout sessions will be LEGO Robotics, (using) EV3 robotics kits and programming them to do missions, dance party, using block coding to make a program that has music and animals dancing, and Bloxels, a program that is used with little blocks to make a video game.”
Through projects like these, FIRST Robotics, and the other volunteers that participated, aimed to share their love for the STEM field with the students and hopefully get them interested in it as well. “We do these service projects because we want to inspire kids to do STEM and to sustain it within the community. This is because in school most kids aren’t exposed to these types of activities and they deserve to learn these different types of skills and to help them develop interests in a potential STEM career. This is because there are many opportunities within the STEM field. We also do this for the kids to have a way to have fun also while learning things,” said Takushi. Chase added, “This year, one of our primary goals as a management team was to incorporate more student led service and outreach projects. We know that outreach events like the Hour of Code Night are imperative if we hope to raise a future generation of creators.”
Besides the Hour of Code Night, FIRST Robotics has reached out into the community through other service projects this year as well. Each year they hold an annual STEM Camp over fall break and this year they also went to the Mililani Middle three times a week for three months in order to help them with their FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) team. “We also had our annual STEM Camp which we host every fall break. We teach different STEM concepts to the kids from third to fifth grade. There are four camps: LEGO Robotics, Bloxels, Programming, and Science Explorations. We also had created an internship for middle school students by making a team and introducing them to FTC which is something our team competes in,” said Takushi.
Chase added, “The FTC internship program at Mililani Middle School was built from an idea that one of our members had in order to better transition middle schoolers to high school robotics. Our management team thought that this was a great idea, so we went for it. We revived the middle school’s FTC team, and we advertised the program to the middle schoolers.”
After the successful Hour of Code event, the FIRST Robotics team plans to take in the feedback they received and try for an even better event next year. We can learn from it and try to do a little more in terms of making improvements and using whatever feedback we can get to run it again, said Kikugawa. Chase added, “I think that from hosting the “Hour of Code” night for the first time, we will be more prepared for future years. I think that the kids had a lot of fun, in fact some of them didn’t want to leave some of the stations at all. In the future, I would probably either just do sessions or just do stations; it got too confusing and people fluctuated too much.”
The FIRST Robotics team is nearing the end of their season, along with their newly formed middle school counterpart, with the FTC State Championship held on December 9. In the future they hope to continue to do more service projects that encourage students to take an interest in STEM, showing them that it can be a fun and interesting field.