Providing students with opportunities to develop cutting edge skills is essential to helping them thrive following graduation. Clover Park schools use technology to help students learn in new ways while also exploring tools relevant to their future careers.
Here are two ways our schools are helping students supplement their learning through robotics and computer science.
Competing in the First Lego League
For students in Woodbrook Middle School’s robotics club, solving problems is the fun part. They formulate the necessary codes to instruct their robots what to do and send them on missions, expecting their directions lead to success. If the robot comes up short, advisor Lee Mendenhall knows that is just part of the learning experience.
“They do a lot of problem solving and need tenacity to figure out what works and what doesn’t,” she said. “They want their robot to be able to do something, and when they figure out how to do it, they’re always really pleased with themselves.”
Woodbrook, along with the district’s three other middle schools, compete in the First Lego League each year. The competition asks teams to build and program small autonomous robots to complete a variety of tasks in a simulated city environment. Teams are scored on success in completing the assigned tasks, teamwork shown by participants and a team presentation.
The competition is the chance to shine, but the real work happens every week after school. Students use Legos to build the robots in ways that help them complete their goals and use a coding program called Lego Mindstorm to tell the robots what to do. It requires math, problem solving and trial and error.
For example, students may need to measure the circumference of the robot’s wheels to figure out how far it needs to go to complete its mission. They then input that information into the Lego Mindstorm’s graphical coding interface and run tests to see how it works.
It’s a fun way for students to gain hands-on STEM experiences while developing 21st century skills.
“My hope is that even if club members don’t go on to become engineers, roboticists or the like, they learn how to problem solve, do some basic coding and become curious about how things work,” Mendenhall said.
Telling stories with robots
If you visit Diana Velazquez’s kindergarten class at Carter Lake Elementary School, you may see her students gathered around a small wooden robot named Cubetto. They’re not enjoying a break from their regular studies or even receiving a hands-on science lesson, they’re learning how to read.
Cubetto aids regular reading instruction by giving students the chance to learn vocabulary and the elements of a story while also gaining programming skills and an opportunity for creativity. It comes with a variety of maps with pictures and asks students to guide the robot over the landscape to complete a story.
Students can send Cubetto on adventures to space, ancient Egypt and other locations, telling related stories along the way. They use blocks on a board to tell Cubetto what direction to go and which turns to make. It’s an early introduction to programming languages they can further explore as they advance through school and into future careers.
“It’s encouraging students to write, draw or create,” Velazquez said. “Regardless of student level, it’s a language they can all work with and understand. Even students who are behind in reading skills can communicate with Cubetto and learn with their peers.”
Teachers were introduced to Cubetto this past summer, getting a chance for hands-on experience with the system as part of the district’s summer institute. Cubetto is being used in kindergarten classes around the district and offers a unique way to engage students in reading and computer science simultaneously.