Thornton Academy News

Robotics Reboot: TA Takes the Next Steps in Tech

Part of the excitement of TA’s STEM program is the fact that the program is ever-changing. Robotics, a course in the New Media Department, has recently seen a reboot in both curriculum and equipment. Last year, a new face joined the team, and early on Arthur Doyle knew it was time for an upgrade. “The robotics program benefited for a while from the Lego robotics kits, but when I took over last year it was clear we were ready for an update.” Technology is always evolving and it is critical to be current, so Doyle worked with Ben Nasse, Director of Technology and New Media Chair, to research trends in robotics and robotics education and vet potential new products and equipment. “What we’re looking forward to most for this semester is having state-of-the-art hardware that allows us to execute curriculum that is dynamic, engaging, and relevant for students and the kinds of challenges they will face in the future in this field. The hardware update and access to a cutting edge VEX curriculum allows students to experiment with real-world challenges in ways we could never have done with the previous equipment. It allows us to be forward-thinking, and to truly prepare students for what is to come.”


two students collaborate in robotics class

Thornton isn’t new to VEX. Engineering Principles teacher Chris Hall has been involved with the VEX platform since 2015 when Thornton’s Robotics Club began competing against other schools in the state. Hall sees opportunities far beyond the nuts and bolts of the platform.  “With its focus on learning by trial and error and on friendly competition, students gain experience that will serve them not only in a field of engineering, but also in real-life situations where competitive drive and cooperative skills are essential.”

This winter, funds raised in support of TA’s STEM programs supported the purchase of a full suite of VEX products, including 12 highly customizable robot kits and software with appropriate storage and tools, along with a reallocation of laptops designated for the program. This will allow for far more hands-on time using the instruments in partnered and individual projects. The software is flexible too, and scales to the user’s ability; coding can be learned through a very visual drag-and-drop block interface to more advanced programming text-based environments using C++ and RobotC programming languages. 

To ensure the investment is maximized, and that students get the highest quality instruction to go along with this exciting upgrade, professional development funding has been allocated for training this summer through a VEX V5 program at Carnegie Mellon. The Robotics Club is also looking forward to a refresh of their equipment, which can often get messy, according to club advisor, Chris Hall. “Like life, robotics can be messy and unpredictable. Learning how to navigate the world of robotics will help prepare students for a changing world.”

The first run of the Robotics course is currently happening now, in Spring 2020.   Doyle and Nasse hope to expand to two offerings in the ‘20-’21 school year: Robotics I and II. The year-long course Engineering Principles is also offered by the Science Department. 

working on robotics in class