First grade teacher publishes STEM children’s book

Photos courtesy of Rafael Robinson

 

BY JEFFREY ZANKER, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Problem-solving is Rafael Robinson’s superpower when teaching first-graders at Douglas Jamerson Elementary.

But teaching technology to children can be a daunting task.

“How do you talk about architectural engineering to a six year old?” Robinson, 35, said.

But instead of lectures, Robinson lets creativity become his method.

This past April, Robinson published a children’s book titled “STEM Club Trouble: Who’s up for problem-solving?”  The book focuses on the trio called the Super Sprockets, who use problem-solving skills to find solutions to daily activities.

The inspiration came in 2014 during a school writing workshop when students were asked to use their imagination as a resource. Robinson suggested superheroes as a starting point. This led him to the Super Sprockets.

“These characters aim to inspire creativity for real-world problems”, he said.

Robinson teaches engineering as part of Douglas Jamerson’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) program. The school is one of the leading STEM schools in the nation, taking first place honors in 2016.

According to a 2016 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, research found that American workers rank “dead last” out of 18 industrial nations in problem-solving skills when using technology.

Also, the US Bureau of Statistics reports that jobs related to STEM will grow in the next decade, with 80 percent of new jobs involving the use of STEM skills; however, the engineering and computer science industries are in desperate need of skilled employees.

Robinson feels this problem stems from low resources and the lack of early engagement.

“There is always going to be problems,” Robinson said, “so how are we going to solve them? These children are our babies and they need to already be engaged.”

Robinson called his aunt Cheryl Henry, an engineering and design professional, about the idea. She was immediately excited and helped him with designs and vocabulary.

“It really resonates with us,” Henry, 54, said. “It interweaves each of our technical and creative sides… into an equal partnership.”

“STEM Cell Trouble” focuses on the Super Sprockets who start their own STEM club. The group includes the leader Horatio (derived from the word ratio), Simon V (as in velocity) and the female lead, Calibration. The Sprockets use the Design Process, a series of problem-solving steps, to solve real-world problems such as building a tree house.

Robinson simplified the series into four components: plan, design, refine and share. The book also includes a lesson guide for teachers and parents.

“This process does not apply just for technical work, but for any jobs,” Henry said.

Robinson definitely has the entrepreneurial spirit; first, he started the publishing company Achieving Engineering Driven Innovation Premier for the books and Ituey, LLC, a STEM education company that has currently sold around 5,000 books. He expects to include lesson plans and merchandise such as phone apps, backpacks, apparel and music in the near future.

 He also started Sponsor 5, a national campaign for businesses and community leaders to purchase five hardback copies of “Stem Club Trouble” and donate them to schools. So far, three Sarasota County schools and two in Atlanta have received donations.

To help support his ventures monetarily, he started Robinson Italian Ice where he rides around St. Pete selling Italian Ice.

Robinson is happily married to his wife Amber and they have two daughters. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary teaching from Florida A&M University, where he played offensive line for the Rattlers from 2001-04.

Henry serves as president of GEFX Multimedia Inc., which specializes in graphic design projects and designed the children’s book “High Flyin’,” a story about the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first African-American military aviators.

Robinson sees his job as a way to create America’s future critical thinkers.

“We must expose them to challenging problems and let them decide,” he said. “They are not going to have someone give them the answers every time. It is imperative for communities and the future.”

More information on Ituey can be found online at Ituey.com or on Facebook on the Super Sprockets page.

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