Building Math Skills with Middle and High School Robotics

Joe Slifka

Technology Teacher and Robotics Club Advisor

LaBrae Middle & High School

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Joe Slifka teaches a 9-week rotational STEM class for middle school students in 6th, 7th and 8th grade. In addition to this course, Joe teaches high school electives in CAD, digital media and robotics, along with an afterschool robotics program that has grown in numbers. In 2012, Joe began using LEGO® Education NXT and LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3 to encourage a growth mindset in his students.

In his classroom Joe starts with a wheel activity, where his students find the “magic number” to use for their upcoming projects. Students mark on paper a starting point and measure how many centimeters one rotation of the wheel travels to find their mathematical unit, the “magic number.” Throughout the class, Joe introduces projects using their magic number to estimate, calculate, and predict, such as how many rotations will it take their EV3 robots to go before falling off of their table’s edge.


Encouraging a growth mindset in his classroom means helping his students understand that failure is simply one more way it didn’t work. While exploring the effects of force, motion, speed, and precision versus accuracy with their robots, along with Joe’s support in trying something new regardless of grades, his students become comfortable with failure. As his students progress, Joe introduces degree rotations and sensors instead of wheel rotations to uncover new ways to solve the same problems. Joe says, “The way that I can put a real-world application on what they’re learning in their other classes, I think makes education as a whole more valuable for that student.”

The way that I can put a real-world application on what they’re learning in their other classes, I think makes education as a whole more valuable for that student.

Joe Slifka
Technology Teacher and Robotics Club Advisor, LaBrae Middle & High School

Joe challenges his students’ computational skills and incorporates other subject areas into his lesson planning through research projects. He incorporates research elements to his robotics courses to get his students to connect with real-world applications. “Using the robotics material as a supplement to hit standards in a lot of other subjects really gives a
more genuine approach to what I do as an educator,” says Joe.

The excitement for learning and engagement is apparent in the way students approach their studies outside of the classroom. Joe tells of one parent-teacher conference night where he opened his classroom. Students excitedly came in to build, test, program and develop their own solutions to problems using the LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3 robots and challenges. “To them it’s not work. It’s fun. It’s a challenge every day,” says Joe. Students were so engaged with their projects, that they spent their own time outside of the classroom learning STEM.

Joe also coaches the afterschool robotics course, winning their local university’s robotics competition three years in a row. Looking for new challenges, Joe and his teams are entering FIRST® Tech Challenge, a high school level robotics competition.

The investment in math, along with connecting cross-curricular learning through LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3 inspires Joe’s students to pursue learning outside of school to ignite their passion in real-world, hands-on learning.

Learn more about LEGO® Education solutions that engage your students in Hands-On LEGO® Learning at LEGOeducation.com.

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