Deaf Students to Compete at National Robotics Competition

Deaf Students to Compete at National Robotics Competition

  • February 7, 2023

Over the last few decades, integration of robotics education in science curriculum and extracurricular activities has provided students with a variety of beneficial technical skills including coding, building, strategic thinking, and problem-solving. These skills, coupled with exposure to growing career paths, have provided students with valuable knowledge that aids them in making informed decisions about their future.

Many Kern County schools have implemented these programs as elective courses or after-school clubs that compete in local, state, and nationwide competitions. However, for students who are Deaf and hard-of-hearing, these programs were not being offered locally in a language that was accessible to them. That is until two KCSOS teachers made it happen. Now, after a little over three years since they started this journey, students in this year’s class at KCSOS’s Deaf and hard-of-hearing program at Chipman Junior High School will now be traveling to Alabama to compete in the 4th Annual NRSC VEX IQ Robotics Competition.   

Jolene Berg and Crystal Tobiasen, both Special Education teachers who hold a combined 40 years of experience working with students who are Deaf and hard-of-hearing, were excited and grateful to have been awarded a federal grant through the RIT National Institute for the Deaf Regional STEM Center. 

“These students do not normally get exposure and direct access to activities like this in their own language,” said Tobiasen. “Their involvement brings them and us so much joy. It is so fun to be able to do this with them.”

Both Berg and Tobiasen attended a two-day training in 2019 in order to learn the curriculum and how to implement it for students in American Sign Language (ASL). Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, full implementation was delayed until the 2021 – 2022 school year. Berg, who is a self-proclaimed tech nerd, was excited and didn’t find the first build too difficult. She likened it to Ikea furniture instructions, which admittedly, can be daunting at first. 

This year, during the 2022 – 2023 school year, students progressed much quicker than they did the year before and are excited to participate in their first competition. To prepare for the event, students use VEX Robotics kits that are delivered at the beginning of the year. 

Once the students get a basic understanding of how the kits will be assembled, they build out all the necessary parts, learn how to code the robots, and then begin driving and maneuvering them to do whatever command they must perform. Commands range from toppling towers to shooting discs. Every successful command equals a certain point value.

“We are so excited for our students to meet and interact with other Deaf teams,” said Berg. “This competition encourages teams to collaborate for more points instead of competing against each other which will provide them the opportunity to problem solve with students they have never met before. It will be an amazing experience for them.”

This all-expenses paid trip includes taking a flight and a hotel stay for the duration of the competition – an experience many of these students have never had before. One student, Aiden Sharp, is looking forward to his trip to Alabama and is grateful for the program.

“I really enjoyed building the robots and knowing it will help me with my future career,” said Sharp. “I am really good at troubleshooting and love the process of figuring out a problem.” 

While students are busy enjoying this exciting moment in their lives, Highland High School, which is the school that these students will be attending once they graduate from Chipman Junior High School, is in the process of implementing an additional robotics program that will serve students in the future. 

Even though this program is in its beginning stages, it provides a bright future for Berg’s Lightning Bots and Tobiasen’s Thunder Bots.