During the rapid development of the Innovate program roughly five years ago, a teacher came to Dayton and introduced a new tech class that would bring unique learning opportunities for puzzle-oriented students that love technology: Robotics.

Michelle Borst, a graduate of Dayton High School, is the Robotics instructor as well as the head coach for the Robotics teams. Michelle always knew that Dayton needed something special to become a more inclusive learning space for all students. Because of Dayton’s agriculturally rich, close-knit community, the school had historically placed a very heavy focus on agriculture and sports programs. So Michelle began envisioning what would happen if she brought a new wave of learning to Dayton by introducing students to engineering technology. Her vision was to give them a window into a world undiscovered, by teaching them about the basics of building and coding functioning robots.

Michelle and a student examine the competition obstacle course

At the same time that Michelle began teaching at Dayton, the school district was getting ready to launch the new Innovate initiative: a district-wide expansion of learning opportunities for students to gain in-depth exposure to skills and mindsets of the new innovation economy. So Michelle felt validated in believing that her Robotics class could be a part of the upcoming academic diversity that Dayton needed. More than that, she knew it was the perfect time to develop it.

In five years of learning from her students, prototyping workshops, clubs and classrooms, and creating a curriculum that empowers creative minds over all else, Michelle’s Robotics program has become very successful. The school district has seen state championships and won awards for their engineering accomplishments. And most importantly, students are empowered to lead their own paths to success. 

In recent years, Michelle offered the Robotics program as a club at Dayton’s annual Summer Innovations Academy. There, she opened the doors to any and all students who were interested in the elective but didn’t get it during the school year. 

This was the image of Robotics Club at the Summer Innovations Academy:

Walking through the door of Michelle Borst’s classroom, you are first met with a diverse variety of students. Some are focused and quiet, silently tinkering away at a bot in progress. Others are in teams formulating building strategies and game plans while prototyping. Some are practicing for state-wide competitions and others just want to know how to program a robot to move from point a to point b. There are girls and boys and students of all ages — all at different levels of learning.

A team deconstructs and reconstructs their robot prototype

The second thing you notice is the learning community. Not only does every student lead their own initiative, but they are teaching their teacher. And in doing so, they have formed a supportive learning environment in the classroom that exerts inspiration. Michelle says: “These students are so tech-savvy and natural puzzle solvers. I was never afraid to start the program because I knew they’d teach me things.” Further, Michelle explained her aspiration to create a space where students could learn from each other as well as from themselves. “It’s a culture of discovery.” She remarked.

Michelle Borst is always finding ways to implement change in the program’s curriculum to bring more value to the learning of her students; such as her decision to leave out quizzes and tests to allow for more authentic student creations. Michelle said: “I don’t want the academic standards of the class to act as a barrier to their creativity.” 

Michelle Borst’s vision for the Robotics program is to expand it to all grade levels — especially in funding the development of an engineering or computer science club at the grade school. Looking to the future, Michelle reflected on the program with confidence: “We’re headed in the right direction!” She said.

Innovation is a part of the culture that is ingrained at the Dayton School District. As the school develops, so will opportunities like the Robotics program. Programs that show students their value as diverse puzzle solvers and creative leaders in our evolving tech economy.

Bevin Schrag Administrator

Bevin Schrag is a writer for Innovate Oregon. While working in social media and marketing at OnlineNW, she is currently studying the arts at Chemeketa Community College, to later become a media designer.