The Robotics Science Class in 5 minutes or less

Blog Post from Luke Laurie’s Teacher Blog:

My Robotics science class was the focus of a five minute presentation I recently did at Microsoft’s Mountain View facility, as a Semifinalist for the STEMposium competition, on March 12, 2011. Below are the slides from the presentation, and the script of my remarks.

My name is Luke Laurie. Today I’m going to tell you about the Robotics Science Class that I’ve been teaching for seven years.

Let me tell you a few things about myself.

Science Teacher 13 years -El Camino Junior High in Santa Maria, CA I teach a student population who are mostly English Language Learners, and almost all live in poverty. My school is not unlike many schools in California.

MESA Advisor 13 years -MESA is a statewide program focused on hands-on activities and college attainment in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science

RoboChallenge Director 10 years -A collaborative regional program funded in part by grants from UCSB, providing robotics materials, competition rules, audio-visual and web-based resources, and teacher support to several schools.

Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow- in the U.S. House of Representatives with Congressman Mike Honda, where I worked for a year on Education and Science Policy

and… I Still play LEGOs

From all of my experience in various STEM programs and STEM education policy, it is clear to me that

STEM must be a part of the core curriculum.

In our schools:

We teach science

And we teach Math

but our students need to know more. We need to ensure that they all have opportunities to explore the concepts of technology and engineering too.

To me, it’s artificial to teach Science without integrating technology, engineering, and mathematics. That’s why I created the Robotics Science Class.


Kids need more STEM experiences and they need to begin them at a young age to have meaningful impact on their lives.

To change the face of STEM, we need to remove the barriers that keep STEM out of reach for most of our students.

The best STEM education programs don’t require high costs or major sacrifices, nor steep qualifications to participate. Good STEM education needs to be easy to access.

Unfortunately, too often, STEM programs don’t reach the student populations that need them the most, and target their efforts only at small teams in after school settings, or to select students during summer programs.

We do have a way to reach all students with high quality STEM education. We have our public schools. And in our schools we need to look at what we’re doing, and make STEM an integral part of our curriculum, and we must implement policies to provide schools with the technical resources, and training they need.

By making my class open to all students, during the school day, and part of the core curriculum, I have enabled hundreds of kids from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain STEM skills and experience they might not otherwise have had.

My students learn that there are tremendous career opportunities for people with STEM skills, and STEM skills are becoming increasingly important to all careers.

The Robotics Science Class integrates California 8th grade physical science standards with the design, construction, and programming of autonomous robots for a variety of fun and interesting challenges.

Students are learning all the California State Standards for Science, including conceptual physics, chemistry, and astronomy, while also learning to use computers and robotics materials as creative tools to solve complex problems.

The Robotics Science Class adds technology and engineering to the science curriculum in a manner that is effective and efficient.

The class primarily uses low cost, durable, flexible, and easy to use LEGO Mindstorms robotics materials, but we’ve used other materials too.

Some of our challenges have included Tug O’War, Sumo, Linefollowing, Robotic Soccer, and Robotic Exploration.

Students learn computer programming concepts using an object-based programming environment where they aren’t stuck dealing with syntax errors and arcane symbols, and instead can focus on the logic of their programs and how to use the sensors and motors to control their robots.

Robotics is a great way to bring all of the aspects of STEM together. Kids love robots, and the idea of working on them is highly motivating. I believe that with more classes like my Robotics Science Class, we will vastly improve STEM education in California.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today.

If you wish more information on my class or other STEM work I do, please send me an email, or visit my website or blog.

Thank you.


The MESA Video

I’ve been a MESA advisor at El Camino Junior High as long as I’ve been a teacher; 13 years. Around the year 2000, I put together a video of how cool MESA is, and used it to get kids excited about careers in engineering and other technical fields. We’ve had hundreds of students in our MESA program over the years. Many have gone into technical fields, and many have gone to college, and all have benefited from the diverse experiences we offer them. Below is a link to that video. MESA is a great program, and should be a part of every great school. MESA is run out of the University of California Office of the President.


For more info on MESA- see the website.


Local News Articles Showing the Good in Education

Many teachers are humble about their successes. Every day, they go about their business teaching their students, planning lessons, grading papers, working on committees, and otherwise maintaining the field of education. Some of these teachers are absolutely, unbelievably amazing, and devote their entire lives to teaching their students. But the same moral clarity that guides their selfless work for students, keeps them from pridefully advertising the work they do. Consequently, the public at large often has no idea how many amazing things teachers are doing, and no idea how truly awesome teachers are.

That’s not me. I believe that it is my duty to shout from the rooftops about what I am doing in my profession. It’s certainly not for fortune, it costs me money and time. It’s part of the same civic duty that drives me to be the teacher I am. I believe that everyone benefits when teachers take the time to communicate to the public at large the difficult challenges they face, and the diligent and creative work they are doing.

Recently, a few articles have helped me in this cause:

One of my former students gave me props for encouraging him to pursue Agricultural Science:

“FFA preps flock for national convention”

I was interviewed for the following article about my work in the Einstein Fellowship, TNLI (Teacher’s Network Leadership Institute), MESA, and the Einstein Fellowship 20th Anniversary Summit:

“Local Teachers Strive to Improve their Craft”

I coached a team of students to build cardboard boats for the “Boat Regatta” sponsored by Santa Maria Parks and Recreation Department.

“Teens Sink or Sail at Cardboard Boat Regatta”

MESA: Rules for Robotics Competitions

Blog Post at

LEGO Sumo Robots, UCSB 2001

Since the year 2000, I have been working with students on the Central Coast of California, teaching them to build and program robots, mostly using LEGO Mindstorms. Last year, several MESA centers across California piloted rules I developed for UCSB’s RoboChallenge program. These rules are designed to enable students using most kinds of robotics formats to build Tug O’ War Robots (for Junior High) and Sumo Robots (for Senior High).

It appears that some schools and MESA centers will again be using these rules for Demonstration events during their MESA competitions. I’m posting these draft rules to make it easy for students, teachers, and MESA coordinators to find them,along with some additional resources that will be helpful. The rules have not been modified since written in early 2009.

Tug O’ War (Junior High)

Tug O’ War draft MESA rules:

MESA Draft Rules for Junior High Tug O’ War (MS Word)

Tug O’ War Tutorial and Video:

Tug O’ War Blog Page:

Sumo (Senior High)

***Note on Sumo: The size of the Sumo board in the rules is somewhat small. A larger board makes for more exciting matches. I prefer a board that is approximately 4 feet in diameter, painted black, with a white border about 4″ wide.

Sumo draft MESA rules:

MESA Draft Rules for High School Sumo (MS Word)

Sumo Tutorial and Video:

Sumo Blog Page: