Robot Revolution: Intelligence In, Intelligence Out
The familiar garbage in/garbage out axiom has long been a mantra of computer programmers, and nowhere is the cause-and-effect principle more apparent than when working with robots. Faced with the three-dimensional movements (and sometimes audio vocalizations) of robots, students across the grade spectrum can see the direct results of their input.
Robot Revolution: Intelligence In, Intelligence Out

With the hope of introducing robotics in younger age groups, the Parkland School District in Allentown, PA, aimed to spread its considerable secondary grade success to the primary grades. This year at the district's Fogelsville Elementary School in Breinigsville, PA, media specialist Samantha A. Edwards piloted a maker space largely devoted to robotics.

Starting with Dash and Dot robots, Edwards helped K-5 students learn the basics of computer programming/coding. "Now we can integrate those robots into any curricular piece," she said, "and that's powerful."

The added "integration" dimension has educators counting the possibilities. Robotics and storytelling? Edwards is doing it. Using Lego WeDo classroom sets, she created a publishing section in her maker space dedicated to "digital storytelling."

"Students made an alligator [robot]," explained Edwards. "Then they made a story board, and from that point we used another Lego product — the story visualizer software — and they created a story, scene by scene. Then we hook it up to the computer and program the robot [alligator] to chomp down on something. They use coding here, and they put it into the story visualizer software and create a digital story … With this, students have that motivation to be able to share. They don't even recognize they are giving a speech."
The trial-and-error ethos is infectious, and Edwards has seen it even in young students. During one after-school session, students worked for hours to perfect a robotics movement sequence.

"I said, 'Guys this is it. Parents want you home,'" Edwards said with a laugh. "They did some fixes. They know the word 'debugging' and they know it's OK to make mistakes. They fixed it and they were successful. Parents loved the experience. One parent said, 'My daughter didn't believe at the beginning that she could code.' This experience has given her the confidence to be successful and do more, and now she is trying to build her own robot in the fourth grade."

Edwards' district has recognized the value in the expanded robotics program. Additional funding through the Parkland Education Foundation will provide robotics maker spaces in every elementary school in the Parkland district next year.

The additional investment may make coding/programming second nature by the time high school rolls around. "People can't believe I have kindergarteners who can tell you what algorithms are and what debugging means," said Edwards. "With Ozobots, for example, you can take markers and teach students coding and robotics. I had kindergarteners use the markers to draw a triangle, and then they took the robot and programed it to travel around the shape of a triangle."

Dip Your Robotic Toe
Administrators in rural districts who are looking to boost robotics throughout their schools need not despair. Stephanie Miller, superintendent and principal of Congress Elementary School District No. 17 in Congress, AZ, knows what it's like to get started, and she has had success so far. "You just need to dip your toe in," she said. "Begin with the fundamentals."

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