Tech-loving student competes in first-ever All-Earth Ecobot Challenge hosted by ABS West and CASE for Kids

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July 20, 2021 by HCDE-Texas

For tech-savvy special education students like Cameron King, the All-Earth Ecobot Challenge hosted by Academic and Behavior School West in collaboration with the Center for Afterschool, Summer and Enrichment (CASE for Kids) is a summer learning game-changer. This competition is the first time that special needs students enrolled at the school have the opportunity to participate in the popular STEM-focused challenge.

Cameron King at ABS West’s All-Earth Ecobot Challenge Day on July 15, 2021.

“It’s made him enjoy the summer program more,” said Cameron’s mother, Tanya King. “It’s given him something new to do and [is] a different challenge rather than [the typical] classroom routine.”

For the last month, nearly 40 students from the fourth grade to age 22 have worked together in teams to assemble, code, operate and maneuver Lego Mindstorms EV3 robots. The teams spent this final week preparing to face off in the much-anticipated All-Earth Ecobot Challenge Day on Thursday.

Both Cameron’s mother and teacher shared that the incoming twelfth-grader, who is on the autism spectrum, has an affinity for computers, researching, and consuming informative tutorials and technical videos.

“I call him our computer student,” said ABS West life skills teacher Angela Ugo. “He is very good with electronics and computers, so when we introduced this project, [those skills] really helped him.”

Cameron’s true love, however, is airplanes. His mother explained how he spends time researching flight schedules at different airports, types of aircrafts, and their purposes. Thus, it was no surprise to teachers and peers when Cameron naturally assumed the befitting role of “pilot” for his Ecobot team. Though he was slightly apprehensive, Cameron expertly maneuvered his team’s robot through the challenge mat, a floor covering with a designated route that teams must successfully guide their robot through.

Hands-on projects like the All-Earth Ecobot Challenge lend several benefits to participants, but especially for life skills students in the summer when school hours are shorter and peer interaction is limited.

Though the project follows a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curriculum, staff agree that it also utilizes many soft skills ABS West curricula help students develop, including creativity, collaboration, and communication.

Ugo describes the sense of pride she feels to see Cameron cooperating with—and even leading—his peers.

“Just watching them work with each other is very rewarding,” she said. “I hope to see projects like this in the future.”

Cameron’s mother, too, noted this change, believing the experience has strengthened his friendship with his classmate.

“It seems like a good opportunity for any child to be able to participate in building teamwork skills, but especially kids at schools like [ABS West] who may struggle working with others,” she said. “I think it’s brought them closer, working as a team.”

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