A group of students at the Excel Academy of Southwest have a new and hands-on way to gain a deeper understanding of STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) thanks to Mike Tyler II’s robotics class. And their learning isn’t confined to the classroom.

Students on the STEM Bulldogs team are now competing in meets organized by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Illinois Robotics. A nonprofit, FIRST was founded in 1989 to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology.

Excel Academy of Southwest hosted a recent event of the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), an accessible robotics program designed to inspire students in grades 7-12 to explore and pursue science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. The FIRST Tech Challenge helps teach students the value of hard work, innovation, and creativity. It goes beyond competition by educating teenagers about the importance of working together, sharing ideas, and treating each other with respect and dignity.

During their weekly class, the STEM Bulldogs learn principles of physics, engineering, electricity and electric circuit analysis. Then, on Saturdays, they work as lab assistants to design, build, and program a robot based on FTC competition specifications. Through Chicago Public School’s Out of School Time funding for work-based learning, team members earn a stipend to attend the enrichment class to enhance their STEAM skills and compete in FTC.

Tyler, the CTE, physics, and computer science teacher and STEM Bulldogs team coach, teaches the robotics course so his students can develop skills including problem-solving, organizational, and team-building for when they graduate high school.

“I hope the skills they learn in my class help them with everything from coding in college, to understanding manufacturing,” he said. “As everything is done robotically now, they can see how math and science concepts are applied to things they use every day like apps, not just using math to solve a formula – taking it to the next step. Just because kids weren’t successful in their previous school doesn’t mean that they can’t learn STEAM and do these kinds of things.”

He added that hosting an FTC meet is a big honor for Excel Academy because it helps give his students exposure to students from other Chicago Public Schools who are also competing in the FIRST Technical Challenge season. His students enjoy the real-world learning and the friendly competition.

“It was so exciting competing with other schools and seeing our robot in action,” said robotics student Jomel. “I really enjoy Mr. Tyler’s class. I didn’t know anything about robots before, and now I want to study electrical engineering and computer science when I graduate.”

We will check in with the robotics team as the compete in more meets and tournaments throughout the year. Go STEM Bulldogs!