IHS Offering New "Math Principles of Robotics" Course
A new course offering in Ithaca High School’s mathematics department aims to expose more students to computer science, particularly those from underrepresented demographics in STEM fields.
Computer science pioneer Edsger Dijkstra said, “The question of whether machines can think is about as interesting as the question of whether submarines can swim.” The semester-long Math Principles of Robotics will give students the tools to teach computers how to think, allowing them to apply algebra and geometry concepts in new ways by building and coding Lego robots.
Students will have the opportunity to code while actively engaging with math and seeing how algebra and geometry lessons can be used in real-world ways. After initial teacher-guided assignments, students will design a project involving programming a robot to perform specific tasks. They’ll use the same process engineers use – brainstorming a solution, creating a prototype model, testing, obtaining data, refining the design, and retesting. Local industry engineers will also drop by to talk about how robots are used in the real world.
Math Principles of Robotics is perfect for students who want to explore robotics and computer science, but have little to no experience. Current course offerings at the high school may be intimidating for beginners, but this course provides a supportive and fun environment for students to test the waters, said IHS math teachers Gauri Kolhatkar and Keri Sheridan.
The class will expose groups who aren’t typically represented in STEM fields, including women and students of color, to robotics and computer programming during the school day.
The class has been in the works for a few years, and IHS already has some of the Lego robotics sets that will be used. But with an increased push for computer science education in the Ithaca City School District and support from department head Steve Weissburg, Sheridan and Kolhatkar said now seemed like the perfect time to put their plans into action.
The software used to program the Lego robots is graphic-based and intuitive, allowing students to make connections to coding language and gain confidence as they learn diverse ways to guide the robots to complete tasks and solve problems. There are several ways to come to a solution through coding, allowing students to pursue independent thinking, creativity, and problem-solving techniques within the Lego framework.
Kolhatkar and Sheridan hope the class will give all students the confidence to explore a STEM track in the future, such as the more advanced computer programming and engineering classes IHS already offers.
The purchase of Lego robots and materials for this new course was made possible by a grant from the Ithaca Public Education Initiative (IPEI).
For more information, please email any one of the following teachers: