Robotic example: Learning by doing is not automatic

With Oregon schools at the intersection of rising standards and reduced resources, it’s good to know that some up-and-coming engineers are standing at the corner.

News comes this week that Lego First robotics teams from Hood River Middle School and May Street Elementary have advanced to state competition in January (article, page A6).

It’s another example of the growing success of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs in our schools.

Of course, an asterisk of sorts goes next to the phrase “in our schools.” That’s because parents, professionals and other volunteers from business and industry, in addition to schools, are integral to helping robotics and other STEM programs work.

With school budget cuts an annual reality, educators must increasingly rely on these kinds of community partnerships. We’ve seen it happen in arts, reading, math and other programs in addition to sports in middle school and high school.

Hands-on and project-based learning encourages innovation and creativity, and has the potential to at least indirectly nudge students to success in the pursuit of higher test scores to satisfy state and federal mandates, a modern school system reality.

The long-standing goal of state officials has been to provide skilled and “work-ready” graduates to meet the needs of companies in an increasingly complex marketplace.

It is an incredibly complex model, one that is sure to see major changes, revisions at the minimum, should Gov. John Kitzhaber’s proposal come to pass to create a separate state agency for post-secondary education. The plan goes before the Oregon Legislature next year in what is sure to be an eventful session.

Opening day for the Legislature always features some playful twists to go along with the pomp and circumstance. One idea to add to the festivities, while demonstrating the need to support hands-on learning, would be to invite the robotics teams to set up their courses in and around the Capitol rotunda for everyone to witness education in action.

Meanwhile, congratulations to the local “Team Celsius” and “Robo Dragons,” and all their supporters.

The robotics kids are learning, and having fun doing so, and the more help they can get from adults, the better.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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