by Airman 1st Class Zade C. Vadnais
18th Wing Public Affairs
3/9/2015 - KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- U.S.
service members helped spark Okinawa Department of Defense Dependent
Schools students' interest in science, technology, engineering and math
by helping them prepare for and participating in an island-wide robotics
competition last month.
The competition took place on U.S. Marine Corps Camp Foster, and DoDDS
students from around the island gathered to see which team could program
standardized robots to complete specific tasks the fastest.
The event was held to support an education initiative which aims to
encourage students to take an interest in STEM subjects at an early age.
"Many times we segregate these sciences as teachers, but in the real
world, success and innovation come from the ability to integrate and
blend these subjects to solve real problems," said Benjamin Ayres,
Kadena Elementary School educational technologist and robotics club
sponsor. "If we are going to develop students to be successful, we need
to be focusing on project-based learning and developing the skills
needed to blend all of these to create a better society, nation and
In order to keep students motivated, military personnel met with the KES
robotics club every Wednesday to help its members program their robots.
The goal was to learn skills needed to perform various tasks at the
competition, such as moving in a figure-eight motion or following a
Ayres said the military volunteers were extremely helpful and noted it's
easier for 15 teachers to keep students focused and determined to solve
problems than it is for one.
On the day of the competition, service members acted as judges,
supervising the students and ensuring they successfully completed one
task before moving on to the next. The students were also given the
opportunity to operate an explosive ordnance disposal robot during a
demonstration by members of Camp Foster's Marine Corps Base EOD.
"My favorite part was playing with the bomb robots," said Mace Phillips,
a KES student. "It doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's just
The robotics competition is just one part of a national initiative to
get young students excited about science, technology, engineering and
math. Even though the competition lasted only one day and there isn't
another level of competition to which the winners will advance, the
students involved now have a positive experience to associate with STEM
subjects, which was the goal from the beginning.
"We are just one school, but as a nation we are slowly getting the ball
moving with STEM programs," Ayres said. "These things solve problems
that can change the future of our nation and of mankind, but we need to
develop the skills and create a passion for solving problems in our
"If you have the time, taking a few hours out of the day to develop or
share these passions can change a student's life and can quite possibly
change the world," he added.