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Introducing Chicago's North Grand High School's Robotics Program

Richard Moore

Mr. Moore is in his 15th year teaching in Chicago Public Schools. He has taught physics at several high schools, and is currently teaching Project Lead The Way (PLTW) pre-engineering courses at North-Grand High School in Chicago.
After graduating from Marquette University with a mechanical engineering degree, Mr. Moore worked in the field for a few years before deciding to go into teaching. His desire to help inner-city youth led him to pursue his master's degree at DePaul University in education. It was at DePaul where he decided to teach physics and coach sports in Chicago Public Schools.
Shortly after earning his certificate, Mr. Moore began working in CPS and coaching football, track, and baseball. Although he no longer coaches, Mr. Moore has found new and rewarding endeavors in CPS through the Career and Technical Education department. In an opportunity to blend his engineering experience with his love of teaching, Mr. Moore has found the Project Lead The Way pre-engineering program to be a perfect fit.
Mr. Moore currently teaches Introduction to Engineering Design, Principles of Engineering, Digital Electronics, and Civil Engineering & Architecture classes. Through the use of the project-based curriculum, Mr. Moore has recently started an after school robotics program, which he hopes to grow and inspire his young students.

Q: Please tell us about your school's robotics program? How many students does it serve? How long has it been in place and what were the main reasons and goals behind its establishment?

Moore: The robotics program at North-Grand H.S. was established last school year as means to engage students with STEM in an after-school setting. As a neighborhood inner-city school, predominately severing a Latin-American community, many students have little to no exposure with technology-based programs before entering high school. As such, my goal in establishing this program has been to simply develop a platform that allows students to interact with technology in a positive setting. With the use of VEX Robotics equipment, the goal has not been to win every competition we enter. Rather, the goal has been to simply provide an opportunity for students compete against their peers from other schools and for students to understand that there is a whole world of possibility that they have never known. As a former athletic coach, I want students to embody the principles of teamwork, perseverance, and resourcefulness and apply it to this pursuit in STEM.

Q: How do you measure the effectiveness and the success of your robotics program?

Moore: Since the goals of this program are not based on competitive results, it is hard to measure the effectiveness of it quantitatively. But I would say that after last year's competition I could see and hear the confidence of my students grow. There was a lot of apprehension on the part of students as to how they would stack up against more seasoned teams from more affluent areas. By the end, I could tell that they believed they belonged, and I was assured that their experience was worthwhile.

Q: Has your program contributed to the academic success and achievement of its participating students?

Moore: In general, I do believe this program has contributed to the academic motivation and success of my students, but again, it is hard to quantify. In the case of one very average achieving senior, however, I can say that robotics definitely had an impact on his academic success. This student, who I believe always had an interest in STEM, developed a confidence during robotics that motivated him to apply to a technical school outside of Chicago. As it turned out, he was accepted and he is now excelling in his program. I can't say with absolute certainty that this wouldn't have happened without robotics, but I am sure that robotics at least played a role in him developing the motivation and self-confidence to seek a career in STEM.

Q: In your opinion, could more urban students (namely Latino and African-American) benefit from robotics programs like yours?

Moore: I do believe that more Latino and African-American students could benefit from a robotics program like mine because it is about exposing students to things they would not otherwise experience. Since these two groups are traditionally underrepresented in the field of engineering and technology in this country, I believe the more exposure these students get, the more apt they will be to grow up to discover a career in STEM.

Q: How engaged are your robotics' students? Please give examples.

Moore: In any group of high school students there will be a wide range of personalities and ability levels. In robotics, this is no different. There are students in the group that know they want to be an engineer later in life and others who are there simply because their friend is there. I have wanted this program to be a place where students can come together and feel comfortable in expressing their ideas and sharing moments so that they can collaborate to find the best robotic solution. I try to be as hands-off as possible so that they can create their own things, which they tend to have little experience with in their academic careers. I encourage them to research and to look at things that have been done before and to use those ideas to innovate their own robots. I guide them when they get stuck or bogged down, but it is my intent that the robot they build is their own.
Throughout this experience there have been many times when I've been amazed and even surprised by some of the engagement students have displayed in robotics. I have seen quiet students become vocal and very passionate about an idea that they value during our sessions. I have seen students who have not performed well academically dive into robotics and become "experts" on the team. And I have seen those marginal students who joined the group because of a friend get just as involved in a project as anyone else. I do see engagement on many levels in robotics and it reaffirms to me that it is a worthwhile endeavor.

Q: Tell us about yourself, what prompted you in pursuing a career in education? Do you have any tips or advices for students aiming to pursue a career in STEM or STEM related fields such as medicine, business and economy, just to mention a few.

Moore: My career in education developed from an enjoyment in working with young people and an aptitude for math and science. Although a started my professional career as an engineer, I gravitated toward education because I wanted to make a difference in young people's lives. I followed the path that I thought was right for me and fit my interests. I would advise any young person to do same. I tell students all the time to figure out what it is that they like to do and then go out and find a career that matches their passion. I believe that if a student has a desire to pursue a career, then he or she should be persistent and not let anyone or anything get in their way. When it comes to careers in STEM, because of their challenging nature, I tell students that if they really want it, they can achieve it. I explain that it won't be easy and that it may take longer than others or that they may have to take an unconventional path, but in the end, they can make it happen through their hard work. If STEM is the right fit, than pursuing it will undoubtedly be a gratifying experience.

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2011 The Innovative Science & Technology Group (ISTGTM)