The story appears on

Page B4

January 31, 2012

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » Education

Ex-NASA designer teaches robotics

WITH report cards issued and school on break, Kristen Stanley is reading "The Art of the Video Game" and making plans to build a miniature dojo to host robotic combatants, preparing for what promises to be a challenging semester.

Students enrolled in her technology class will learn the basics of video game design and robotics. Teams of students will even create their own LEGO robots to step (or wheel) into the ring and compete sumo-style to push the opposing robot out. It promises to be like the TV shows "BattleBots" or "Robot Wars;" only run by 8th graders.

Stanley, an American born in Philadelphia, believes that the project, while being trendy, will also have practical benefits. "It will open up a conversation," she says. "What else can robotics do? There's a lot of new technology, but it's really there to help people."

Stanley, 27, is in her third year at the Western International School of Shanghai (WISS) as the secondary head of technology. When she arrived the job meant teaching the students primarily Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint. "Which are very good fundamentals that they do need to learn, but they were very bored by it," Stanley says. "I was able to grow the curriculum into something where I could teach the kids something more dynamic."

Each of her units starts with a problem like: "How can we use video to bring awareness to an issue?

The answer: by making an effective documentary and the students were given the freedom to make a movie about any issue they thought was important. The result was documentaries on a wide variety of topics such as the environment, the American public school system, video game addiction, alcohol addiction and earthquakes.

Other assignments have included designing websites, creating 3D models and producing music videos. Stanley says her students are excited by the innovative assignments and recognize their potential. "They see that I'm able to it and that you can make a career out of this," she says.

Still if her students aren't interested in becoming a software programmer for Nintendo or a graphic designer for Lexus, they can still find skills to take away from her class since she places an emphasis on problem-solving. "That's what all the jobs are geared to these days," she says. "Employers want you to be problem-solvers and come up with ideas."

Given her Philadelphia roots, Stanley took an unusual route to Shanghai. She graduated from Howard University in Washington and went right into working at her dream job as a website and graphic designer for NASA. But when the economy turned bad the space program suffered forcing NASA to cut shuttle launches and jobs.

While at NASA she also worked in their education department, creating materials for schools. This became invaluable when she came to Shanghai with her husband and two children and struggled to find work as a graphic designer. She decided to give teaching a try and with her skill set and passion, WISS was happy to have her.

Last October she took some WISS students to Russia for the International Space Olympics. The annual competition takes place at Korolev, the headquarters of the Russian space program, and features teams of students from all over the world competing in events and making presentations on mathematics and sciences.

Also, they toured the facilities and were allowed to ask questions to astronauts in the space station on the big screen in mission control.

"It was a great experience for them," Stanley says. "Those kids interested in math and science they didn't feel like such an outcast or so different, because they found people like them."

She hopes they can return this year and plans to start preparing their presentations months in advance; perhaps it will even lead to unit on designing space shuttles.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend