Baby boomers may remember the Robot from the 1965-1968 TV show Lost in Space - a tall, glass-globe topped helper on board the Robinson family’s Jupiter 2 space ship, who befriended the family’s young son Will. The Robot often warned Will of impending trouble by waving its two arm-like appendages and saying “Danger, danger, Will Robinson!”
Contrast that introduction to robots with today’s students at Lake Local Schools, who are learning about robots through basic programming and coding starting in kindergarten. The district’s end curriculum goal is to ultimately offer lessons in grades K-12 that expose students to computer coding and programming.
Lake educators say there are several key benefits to introducing and incorporating coding and programming principles early. “Any school subject can be incorporated into these lessons, and they offer a huge engagement piece for the students. For example, in Math, students can program Dash to move within a perimeter of 100 inches,” said Tech Integration Support staff member Melissa Dills.
Also, learning computer skills provide students with a different mindset. “Students start to see early on sequential things– if this happens, then it causes a reaction. Kids have a blast. We hope to have every classroom in grades K-6 exposed one time this year to a robotics lesson. Next year we hope to do it twice,” said Lake High School Career Compact GenYes instructor Frank Pilato.
“We are on track to far exceed that expectation because our teachers are finding great value and our students are loving the robotics and coding experiences,” added Mrs. Dills.
This new vision is taking shape thanks to a mandate the district received from the community to provide 21st century technology to students when Lake passed its last school bond issue in May of 2015.
Now in Kindergarten and first grade, students are introduced to robot construction kits called Cubelets involving small color coded magnetic blocks. Endless, different types of modular robots can be created depending upon how the action, sense, and thinking Cubelets are snapped together.
“For example, if a student properly puts together a light Cubelet and a battery Cubelet, a light will turn on,” said Pilato.
In addition, students in grades second – fourth are learning to code small blue, circular shaped mobile Dash and Dot robots, (when properly coded they can move and speak), as well as use a computer app called Blockly on their iPads. Blockly allows students to create colorful, simple drag-and-drop block coding, as another introduction to computer science.
“The Blockly app includes a self guided tour so students can easily follow directions on how to work with it,” said Mrs. Dills. Students who quickly grasp coding with Dash, Dot, and Cubelets can also use challenge cards to help them expand their learning.
This year a third grade five-week Robotics Boot Camp program has also been conducted in Cindy Mullen and Jennifer Carey’s classes, with hands on support from 10 high school GenYes students. The boot camp started in early November. “This program has been amazing, and the kids are 100 percent involved! The cooperation within student groups and helping each other has been the best I have seen. Working with Mr. Pilato’s class and having the interaction with high school students only created more excitement for everyone,” said Mrs. Mullen.
Ten Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot kits are being used, and allow third graders to quickly build, program, and command their own LEGO robots. Robots can be programmed and commanded to drive, shoot, slither, walk, slam, spin, and much more; a EV3 Programmer App can be downloaded to their laptop computers allowing students to bring their robot to life.
Third grader Wyatt Jones said learning coding, and watching how the robots respond after being programmed, has been especially fun. “When we make mistakes we have to reprogram them. It’s so cool to see how my coding is making them move,” he added.
Boot camp guest and volunteer Brian Neiss, a Lockheed Martin mechanical engineer and parent of Mrs. Mullen’s third grade student Hunter Neiss, has also been talking to the students about careers in engineering and robotics, work done by different types of engineers, and engineering completed by his employer.
Meanwhile in grades 5-6, students in Mallory Wickham and Kathy Tobin’s classes are now using Lego Wedo 2.0 “Milo the Science Rover’ robots to complement their earth science unit about territories; they are also using the documentation tool to complete a writing unit.
And in Yvette Anderson and Jan Roberto’s classes, students are using the ‘Spy Robot’ to learn how to code a sensor and record their own voices. All fifth and sixth grade students will be participating in these hands-on building and coding activities.
“In every class in every grade, kids work in groups, promoting communication, collaboration, and cooperation,” said Mrs. Dills.
At the middle school, students are being introduced to developing mobile apps using MAD-learn software. It allows students to plan, design, and create a computer app to present information in a high tech way with a home page, buttons, etc., vs. creating more traditional written reports or Google/PowerPoint slides. “This continues students’ exposure to programming and coding. At Lake Middle High School, students don’t use posters- they are using technical skills to show off,” said Pilato.
Finally, starting as sophomores in high school, Pilato’s GenYes students are developing and using high level computer skills to troubleshoot problems with software and hardware, assist staff and fellow students with technical issues, create videos and other presentations, and complete other computer-related, technical projects as assigned.
Within the past few years, several of Lake’s GenYes students have earned prestigious GenYes certification after successfully completing a rigorous list of IT tasks including technology integration and break-fix computer issues, and after interviewing with a panel of GenYes employees.
“The big picture is that students who will be entering Lake Middle Lake High School in the years to come will have a completely different skill set than what we’re dealing with now. Kids will learn at an earlier age that they want to go into computer science related fields,” said Pilato.
“We will not be able to keep up with these kids when they reach high school. The skills they will have will be incredible,” added Assistant Superintendent/Director of Technology Pat Carroll.
(On a side note, Aultman Hospital invited Lake’s GenYes program to complete and present a Rube Goldberg machine - a device intentionally designed to perform a simple task in an indirect, overcomplicated way through a series of chain reactions - as part of the hospital’s ‘Spirit of Inquiry’ conference held Nov. 28, 2018.
The machine went through its paces twice, once before the introduction of the keynote speaker, and again midway through the event.
The entire GenYes class created a Rube Goldberg machine patterned loosely after the classic board game ‘Operation’ to tie in with the hospital based, medical theme of the conference. “A robot started the series of chain reactions, which ended with circuitry causing the patient’s red nose on the game board to light up,” said Pilato.)
A GenYes student helps third graders learn about robots during boot camp.
Learning while having fun with robots in third grade!
Frank Pilato and Melissa Dills with students at Lake Elementary.