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Howland High School adds robotics

New class puts focus towards STEM skills for 2020-21 year

HOWLAND — Students at Howland High School will have one more avenue to learn valuable STEM (science, math, engineering and technology) skills next year with the introduction of a robotics class for the 2020-21 school year.

“Having the ability to code and understand the world of robotics and automation is increasingly important,” Principal Joe Simko said.

Technology skills have become highly desirable in the jobs market and are helpful for entering the workforce — even locally, where skilled manufacturing often relies on robotics, he said.

“Manufacturing doesn’t mean what it used to mean,” Simko said.

Computer programming teacher Joe Barickman will be heading the robotics course, which already has 40 junior and senior students enrolled — about 10 percent of the total students in those grades.

“I want to put an emphasis on coding, programming, so they get some exposure with that,” Barickman said. “So I don’t want them to just make the robot, the machine — I want the kids to see all the things related to it.”

Robotics will be a semester course taught opposite of 3D printing, which Barickman has taught for four years. He said the classes teach skills that are valuable even to students who choose not to pursue STEM.

“It’s not just the material. It’s not just the languages. There’s also the creative element. There’s also a problem-solving element,” Barickman said. “Technology changes, but the way you break down a problem and solve it does not change.”

The ultimate goal of the robotics class is to prep students for the creation of a LEGO robotics team, possibly as soon as the 2021-22 school year.

Sharon Middle and High School, just across the state line, has been helping the Howland teachers and administers figure out their robotics program and potential robotics team, according to Simko.

“A huge portion of starting a robotics team is making sure you have the students with the aptitude to do the programming,” Simko said.

The school already has several entry points to STEM, including the school’s elementary and middle school “makerspace” classrooms. At the high school level, computer programming can be taken for college credit and there are also engineering based classes available.

“We just want to get people more interested in STEM,” Barickman said.

With a background in match teaching and computer programming and 29 years of teaching — 23 of those at Howland — Barickman said he tried to think about what originally got him interested in computer programming.

He said when he was in eighth or ninth grade, he arrived early off the bus and a teacher would let him use a computer at the school. The first program he wrote was to make an American flag on the computer.

He said when it comes to teaching his students, he wants them to be the best they can: “I try to challenge them as much as I can challenge them and take them as far as they can go.”

avugrincic@tribtoday.com

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