Creating a Winning Team Through Peer-led Training and Self-paced Learning

When Westlake High School’s principal charged teacher Norman Morgan with starting a FIRST Robotics® team, Morgan didn’t back down from the challenge. Having coached high school sports for 17+ years, Morgan knew he wanted to create a culture based on teamwork and training. Morgan just needed a tool to facilitate this — a gym, if you will — where participants could mentally exercise and develop their computer-aided design (CAD) skills.

When Morgan’s team received SolidProfessor in their FIRST Robotics kit of parts one season, Morgan knew he’d discovered the tool that would enhance his students’ training and CAD knowledge.

The Game Plan: Students Teaching Students with the Help of SolidProfessor

No CAD experience, no problem! When Morgan started his first FIRST Robotics team, neither he nor his school had experience with CAD, but he didn’t let that stop him. Instead, he architected a new model of learning through self-paced, peer-led training.

Here’s how his method works: Morgan and his older FIRST Robotics students organize small group meetings during the summer. More advanced students lead the meetings, using SolidProfessor’s online videos to teach the younger students how to navigate their CAD software SOLIDWORKS.

Outside of these more formal meetings, students reference SolidProfessor whenever they want to learn a new skill or answer a question. “I’m a big believer in on-demand learning,” Morgan explains. “Kids don’t need to have a teacher there. They can find what they need if they have the resources.”

Once school starts, the students meet more frequently, with student design leads using SolidProfessor’s videos for training and reinforcement of skills. Morgan says that kids often come to him and older students to ask how to do something in SOLIDWORKS, and they’re typically told to use SolidProfessor’s online videos first.

“The neat part is that SolidProfessor’s videos are in very small chunks, two to seven minutes, and the kids love that.” Morgan adds, “Today, students are very into the richer content and the richer media. They go home and instead of watching TV, they will watch YouTube for entertainment. SolidProfessor exists in the same paradigm that they exist in on a daily basis.”

READ MORE: 7 reasons to leverage multimedia in the classroom

Bonus Points: Earning SOLIDWORKS Certifications

In addition to equipping his FIRST Robotics teams for success, Morgan also uses SolidProfessor to help his students earn their Certified SOLIDWORKS Associate (CSWA). Morgan explains that, in Texas, when students pass the certification exam it goes on their official transcript, so students frequently ask Morgan how to get certified. Morgan shares his response: “I tell students, ‘Here’s the SolidProfessor videos. You need to go through and watch them and then do the assessments.”

With pride, Morgan adds that his students don’t just learn the material — they also apply their skills by using the school’s laser cutter and 3D printer. “Students know that they can take the SOLIDWORKS skills they gain through SolidProfessor and can make the parts on their own.”

READ MORE: Want to get kids excited about learning? Build a Fab Lab

The Game Winner: Triumphing in FIRST Robotics Competitions and Earning Certifications

Morgan’s FIRST Robotics teams boast 10 FIRST Robotics World Championship appearances. Most recently, they were the Galileo Division Finalist for the Houston World Championship. They’ve also won numerous regional championships.

Morgan excitedly explains that younger and younger students are gaining the CAD skills they need to be successful in FIRST and in achieving their CSWA. “I have 10 kids this year who will take the CSWA exam, and only two of them are seniors.” He continues, “The main reason that’s the case is I have resources that can extend the school year into the summer and the classroom into the house.”

Morgan credits their training success with the unique model he set up: younger students learn how to navigate the software through SolidProfessor-assisted peer training, then those students observe how to train others, and, finally, they become the teacher. “I’ve done the student-observer-teacher model in the classroom and in FIRST and SolidProfessor really assists with that.”

READ MORE: Empowering students to build better FSAE cars

Kelly Mantick
About the Author

SolidProfessor academic content writer and amateur hula hooper