robots rock and STEM rules (part 2)

in robots in education by Dr. Patrick Konopnicki

Part 2 of an interview with award-winning educator Dr. Patrick M. Konopnicki, Director of Technical and Career Education for Virginia Beach Public Schools.  Read part 1 of Dr. Konopnicki’s guest blog here.

Rethink Robotics: In an article, you cite that the U.S. Department of Labor projects that 15 of the 20 fastest-growing occupations by 2014 will require significant science or math training. What are those occupations, and how does robotics help build these necessary skills?

Dr. Jonathan Rothwell of the Brookings Institution, during a recent visit to VBCPS, highlighted some of the STEM related jobs in our area as: engineering, computer occupations, health technicians, drafters, installation and repair, business specialists, metal and plastic workers. Many of these occupational fields are directly related to robotics. By understanding all possible aspects of robotics, from designing, building, coding, repairing, testing, prototyping, marketing and business planning, students will be able to utilize their real-world SRC experience as they move forward in education and careers.

RR: Innovation can be expensive. How do you suggest schools find the funding to provide commercial grade equipment and programs?

My advice to my CTE colleagues would be to first see if you have the staff and structural appetite for innovation and then look for funding through local and grant funding sources. Part of our push came from our strong relationship with the Mayor’s Manufacturing Roundtable and the city economic development department.  If you really want to be “ahead of the curve” or state-of-the-art …you have to make the case and find a way.

RR: Tell us more about the certificate programs that you’ve implemented, and how the Baxter robot is integrated within these programs.

VBCPS prides itself in being a state and national leader in student industry credentialing.  Since 2002 our latest data indicates that over 44,000 industry credentials have been earned, and that number will increase by June 2014. At the Advanced Technology Center where Baxter lives, students in Engineering Technology, Modeling and Simulation, Digital Design, and Programming and Gaming all have tied Baxter into their programs as a real–world opportunity to make their course content come alive. These courses all carry multiple industry credentials.

RR: What is the right age group to begin working with Baxter?

As you can see in the video below, just four days after Baxter arrived in VBCPS, we arranged for a coding club from the Old Donation Center elementary school to visit and even begin to code Baxter. So I think we have already proven you can go as low as the 5Th grade. This certainly illustrates our STEM Robotics Challenge mantra that “Robots Rock and STEM Rules!”


About the Author

Dr. Patrick Konopnicki

Dr. Patrick M. Konopnicki has been Director of Technical and Career Education in Virginia Beach Public Schools since 1992. A former classroom teacher, principal and professor with George Washington University, Dr. Konopnicki has served on the Governor's Council for School/Business Partnerships and the Governor's Task Force for the Construction Industry. In 2002, he received the outstanding service award from the National State Career and Technical Education Directors. In 2009, Dr. Konopnicki was named an Education Fellow at Old Dominion University and received the National Thomas Olivo Outstanding Service Award presented by NOCTI. The following year, he was appointed to the ACTE National Energy and Sustainability Task Force. His latest passions include STEM Robotics K-12, CTE certifications and Workplace Readiness and Sustainability as a 21st century skill.

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