Robotics: USAR competition – The struggle is real world!


Across the nation, SkillsUSA® teams have been competing at the regional and state levels in hopes of going to the 50th annual National Skills and Leadership Conference (NSLC). Teams participating in the USAR event design and build a tele-operated robot to locate and dispose of a simulated explosive ordnance.

Students build their robot in the classroom or as part of an after-school program while keeping an engineering notebook that includes a bill of materials, design sketches of the different iterations of their robots, and daily work notes. Event scoring is based on the robot’s engineering quality and durability; a written test at the event; the technical presentation of the robot; the neatness, completeness, and organization of the team’s engineering notebook; and the team’s ability to both remotely navigate the course and locate and dispose of the ordnance blocks. Gold medals and bragging rights for the winning team are at stake.

The NSLC is moving from Kansas City, MO, to Louisville, KY, this year. SkillsUSA has transitioned to the new location to accommodate the growing number of events and contestants. USAR has grown from 10 states participating in 2012 to 18 states participating in 2015. To learn more about the SkillsUSA Championships, please visit

Watch this USAR video to see the competition robots in action.

A passion for teaching


For the remainder of 2015, Pitsco Education will be running a series of blogs showcasing the Teacher Advisory Group (TAG). Four questions will be addressed for each TAG member in the blog series.

Jill Brockmier has been teaching for 29 years. For the past 27 years, she has taught kindergarten through fifth grade in the Pullman School District in Pullman, Washington. Currently, she teaches first grade in a self-contained classroom.

Jill is also an adjunct professor at Washington State University and serves as a mentor teacher for preservice teachers. For the past four years, she has been part of the Science Leadership Team for the Educational Service District of Eastern Washington. This team is helping teachers bridge to the new Next Generation Science Standards. She also spends time after school tutoring many students, ranging from second to ninth grade, in math, science, and reading. In 2006, Jill received her National Board Certification as a Middle Childhood Generalist.

Jill was asked some questions about teaching. She responded with some great input for other teachers.

What is something unique about your classroom?

I guess what makes our classroom unique is that it is full of math and science materials that span across many grade levels. I am always pulling out manipulatives and games to teach math and science concepts that we come across in our studies. Also, our classroom is full of technology, including wireless headphones, a printer, computers, and tablets.

Please provide a best tip for classroom management.

The best classroom-management tip I have is to love what you do. Make sure your students see that you love what you are doing. Have a sense of humor and laugh often with your students. Most importantly, I believe you need to intentionally teach and model expected behaviors. Don't assume all students know these behaviors when they come into your classroom. Teach what it looks like and sounds like. Finally, recite your expectations often as a reminder, and then expect to see your expectations fulfilled.

What is your best piece of advice for a new teacher?

For a new teacher, my best tip would be to remember the joy you had in learning. Try daily to make this happen for your students. Get excited! Celebrate! Finally, remember that you need to take care of yourself to be the best for your students.

What do you hope to gain from being a member of TAG?

I hope to implement with my young learners some new ideas in STEM that integrate with the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Math Standards. I want to collaborate with TAG members to help create these ideas across the grade levels. I enjoy the products that I have from Pitsco, and I can't wait to try out some more. My students love STEM, and they believe they are engineers. Powerful!

Visit to learn more about TAG or to read the short bios of all the 2015 TAG members.

Up the river!


On May 14, 1804, Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery departed Camp Dubois in the Indiana Territory on a trek that made history. Captain Meriwether Lewis was commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to take an expedition through the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. Lewis set out with his friend, Second Lieutenant William Clark, and a crew of volunteers to explore the uncharted regions west of the Mississippi River.

The initial stages of their journey took them up the Mississippi and then across the Missouri River. Traveling by river, the expedition arrived at the Pacific Ocean in mid-November 1805.

It is fascinating history. Their journals recount the group discovering the wonders of the West, establishing the United States’ presence, studying botany and zoology, engaging in cartography, and establishing trade with the people of western North America. George Sullivan’s Lewis and Clark: In Their Own Words provides a student-friendly version of the journals.

We can use the Lewis and Clark Expedition to teach just about anything, especially about boats. The men and women on this journey traveled in boats, which Clark included drawings of in his notes. These watercraft were called keelboats, barges, and dugout canoes, but mostly, they were called boats.

Boats are a science all to themselves. The anniversary of this expedition provides a great opportunity to introduce young, curious minds to buoyancy, water displacement, volume, density, hydrodynamics, and more through boat-related activities.
Pitsco offers boat kits such as the Mousetrap-Powered Boat Kit and The Wave Glider. These affordable kits enable students to compare different energy sources and to experiment with load. Each boat takes up to two hours to build, and students can take hours to test the boats on water.

For students with a bit more creativity or curiosity, consider the Boat Hull Design Kit. This basic boat kit includes a foam block and a pine block for students to use to design and build their own models. The AquaTrak is a great way to test boats without making a watery mess.

Watercraft were essential to the exploration of our young nation. Just imagine what discoveries students can make with them today!

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