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Robotic technology has moved from the confines of the research labs into public school classrooms across the country. Many teachers and students, including some at West Wilkes Middle School (Wilkes County Schools), are now enjoying new hands-on learning opportunities as a result.

Thomas Kremen teaches a popular robotics class at West Wilkes Middle and shares various scientific, mathematical, and design concepts as he guides students though designing, building, and programing robots. At the same time, Kremen also teaches students valuable STEM skills that they will need when they graduate high school and enter college and a career.

In Kremen's class, students design and build robots and program the robot's movements by using special software. The class is divided into teams with each member assigned specific duties. Teamwork is necessary for the robots to be competitive and successfully navigate ramps, drive under tunnels and over bridges and in circles to complete their obstacle courses.

Students often refer to Kremen's class as 'the best class of the day.' Many say they enjoy the challenges, calculations, new technology and teamwork that the course requires.

Kremen's love of teaching robotics began with a competition. While participating in the First Lego League three years ago, he applied for a summer teaching position at N.C. Center for Engineering called Robotics (Future Engineers). Kremen was chosen to be one of the three teachers in North Carolina who were selected to start a robotics program in their own school and to help increase middle school students' interest in the engineering field. When he returned to teaching after the summer, he also applied for a Lowes' Toolbox Grant to help him start a Robotics Program at West Middle. Lowes' awarded Kremen the grant and by the second semester, he had created his own program.

As a part of the middle school curriculum, eighth grade students are allowed to choose their own exploratory classes to Kremen's delight, his robotics class was one of the first to fill up.

"This class is important because it enables students to develop 21st century skills and we are having fun learning at the same time," Kremen said.

Kremen's popularity among students and colleagues and his hard work in creating and implementing the school's first robotics course is part of the reason he was named West Wilkes Middle School's Teacher of the Year for 2013.

There is no question that Principal Dion Stocks is proud of Kremen and the school's unique new program.

"The robotics class is a wonderful chance for our students to get hands-on experiences that combine real world opportunities with the skills they are already learning in math, language arts and science each day," he said. "It is exciting to go in the classroom and see students working hard and utilizing knowledge they have acquired in other courses. Middle school is an important time for students to think about their future and this course gives them a chance to see how core classes relate to future opportunities."