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At the East Texas State Fair Academic Rodeo this year, Tyler Classical Academy, a ResponsiveEd® charter school, students in elementary and middle school walked away with first place for the Engineering Challenge. Students built a Mars Rover from Legos that collected rocks and excelled at several other challenges.

It was the suggestion and initiative of a parent that made this opportunity possible for the students. Amy Sandidge came to Campus Director Keith Garcia at the beginning of the school year asking if she could start a robotics and engineering club. He was happy to say yes.

“I love my parents because they are so involved. If they come to me with an idea, I am all about saying yes. I was happy to say yes to Amy because the hands-on experience of robotisc fits well with the Charlotte Mason classical education method that we follow,” Mr. Garcia says.

It was the classical aspect of the school that drew Mrs. Sandidge to enroll her third and seventh grade students. She wanted a school focused more on classical education in addition to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“We were looking for a more classical style of education. Even though we like hands-on education, we didn’t want an education only focused on STEM. Rather, we wanted a classical school with STEM integrated into the program,” explains Mrs. Sandidge.

She is now volunteering her time to teach robotics and engineering to about 50 students in grades third through ninth several days a week and lead a competitive robotics team of 15-20 students outside of the classes.

In addition to placing first at the Academic Rodeo, Tyler Classical Academy’s elementary team received special recognition for best understanding of design process, most rocks collected and best presentation. The middle school team, Spicy Memes, also received special recognition for best design, best understanding of the design process, most creative name, most rocks collected, and best notebook.

Mrs. Sandidge is very methodical in how she teaches and which competitions she chooses to compete in because she wants the kids to have fun as well as learn. In addition to the engineering aspect of the class, she believes they are learning useful life-skills.

“They are learning about simple and powered machines, constructionism, power sources, bluetooth and programing. Outside of that, they are learning teamwork, cooperation, problem solving and critical thinking because if things don’t go right they have to fix it. It also involves creativity,” she explains.

Mr. Garcia particularly likes the hands-on aspect of the program.

“I really like that the kids are actually putting the legos together and learning simple codes. They aren’t sitting in front of a computer screen. Instead, they are building the machines and thinking through the best design,” comments Mr. Garcia.

With one competition behind them, Mrs. Sandidge is hoping to start competitions within the school to give all the students an opportunity to compete. For next year, she is hoping to send teams to the  Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) robot competition and the EcoBot Challenge. She is also looking into robotics and engineering competition opportunities with NASA and MIT.

Mrs. Sandidge has found that the engineering and robotics class provides kids with a positive outlet for their energy. Limiting her talking time in class to less than 10 minutes, the students are actively working for most of the class time.

“It works really well for kids who have ADD and ADHD or are on the autism spectrum or even those with dyslexia. This opens up a whole different world. They are moving around a bit and it is a fun environment. It can be a nice break for a lot of them,” she says.

As the students put their ideas into action in a tangible way, Mrs. Sandidge has also seen how it helps them build confidence. In addition to finding more competition opportunities, she is looking for sponsors to further develop the program.

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