NYC First’s STEM Centers and Robotics Programs is a profiled program in the Plugging In Report.
Who is served: Robotics programs: all K–12; STEM Centers: students attending under-resourced high schools
Number of participants: Approximately 7,000, including 150 in credit-bearing courses
Location: STEM Center at Cornell Tech: Energy Tech HS, The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria, High School for Environmental Studies, Legacy High School. STEM Center at NYPL’s Washington Heights Branch: Gregorio Luperón HS, Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS), City College Academy of the Arts, University Heights HS. Out of school robotics programs: locations around NYC.
Frequency/Duration: Credit-bearing courses: 3 hours per week throughout the school year
Eligibility Criteria: None
Curriculum: Structured around the FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competition, and tied to what students are learning in school. Core skills taught include coding, 2D and 3D design and fabrication, circuitry, collaboration, project management, and computational thinking. Languages taught include Java and Python for Raspberry Pi, and C for Arduino.
Outcomes: Students earn high school credits at STEM Centers. A pre/post-program survey measures baseline skill level and social-emotional learning progression.
Partnerships: NYC DOE, Cornell Tech, NYPL, BPL, QPL
Cost: Free for STEM Centers
Sources of funding: Private (foundation, corporate and individual support)
What makes the program stand out? FIRST is known for its annual Robotics Competition, where teams of high school students guided by professional engineers create industrial-size robots that compete against each other. College scholarships are offered. Students can also join teams as early as kindergarten to learn how to code with LEGO Education WeDo 2.0; older elementary- and middle-school student teams use LEGO Education MINDSTORMS EV3 to design and build robots.
While the robotics programs create excitement around technology, teams must find financial support or apply for grants to cover registration fees. NYC FIRST STEM Centers stand out for introducing similar content to underserved high school students at no cost, and with guidance from trained educators who emphasize computational thinking.
It’s also one of the rare programs that goes beyond having students memorize different coding languages. “We put a lot of emphasis on understanding the logic of how these [coding] languages work, and why they should use them and how to combine them,” said instructor and program manager Francesca Rodriguez. In the fall, students are introduced to programming with Java, Python for Raspberry Pi and C for Arduino, as well as physical computing (including 2D and 3D design and fabrication, and circuitry). In the spring, students apply what they’ve learned by designing and building a technological solution to a problem in their community.
What does the organization need? Funding and more awareness in the community that the STEM Center is a resource for everyone living in the neighborhood. Students from Crown Heights and the Bronx have also come in to use the equipment, and this is the sort of resource-sharing that the STEM Center wants more people to know about.