Page 24 - THE Journal, June/July 2017
P. 24

Here’s how one district is deploying robots to embody concepts in science, math, ELA and social studies. By Cheri DiMartino
THIS IS OUR FIRST year implementing a robot in our gifted science and math classes in grades 7–8. Prior to purchasing the NAO robot, we conducted a workshop for parents, students, and teachers for input. Overwhelmingly, everyone was excited for this new 21st century technology to be used in our gifted magnet program. Parents told us giving their kids the opportunity to program a robot made them feel that we are “at the forefront of gifted education,” while at the same time giving students “the outlet to be creative and imaginative.”
During the first quarter, teachers were trained by RobotLab on programming and lessons. The included curriculum can be leveled for beginning, intermediate and advanced questions. Some lessons teach math concepts by using the robot
to visualize coordinate planes, degrees of movement and limitations. Others teach the students how to complete basic programming tasks such as making the robot talk, or walk from point A to point B, or even respond to specific questions it is asked.
The students started by programming the robot to introduce itself and respond to a series of questions about the school and the class that the students had chosen. Since then, lessons have delved into other STEM topics and skills. Teachers have used robots to embody physics concepts such as speed and kinetic energy; the robots can record data to solve formulas and prove the relationships of formulas. Students are exploring technology by programing the robot and learning what a router is, how computers and robots communicate and how to connect the robot to the computer and download programs onto various robots. They have also practiced engineering
by designing attachments that will allow robots to complete specific tasks. According to math teacher Joseph Pazar, the most impressive feature of the robot is the versatility of the curriculum, which “not only incorporates math concepts, but science, ELA and even social studies.”
Practicing with a Virtual Robot
Since we have only one physical robot, students frequently use the platform’s “virtual robot” feature to test their code without actually connecting to the physical robot. The virtual robot is
a very accurate avatar that students can access in a browser- based platform via any device with an internet connection. With virtual robots, many students can test their hypotheses on mathematical equations at the same time, in a risk-free environment. They can see how their program will work by watching the virtual robot act out their direction, make any adjustments necessary for the robot to complete the required tasks, and then connect to the physical robot later to present their program to the teacher or the class.
As one student said, this sort of iterative approach to programming “helps us problem-solve by being able to understand the cause and effect of our actions and the root of our problems, along with how to fix them. It also helps you realize how specific you have to be with directions and coding when it comes to robots and technology.”
This year, the robots are being used only in the gifted magnet programs. Next year we plan on expanding to a robotics club
in specific middle schools that all students at the location
will have access to. While we are still in the beginning phase
of implementation, we are optimistic that the browser-based
activities will enable teachers to implement lessons with minimal setup and time, helping them integrate curriculum core concept lessons for all students throughout the school year. Teachers are excited about discovering the full potential of robot-based lessons, which science instructor Katherine Silva-Sampaio said “greatly incorporates 21st century learning and exploration by using something tangible to apply and visualize concepts.”
Why have a robot in the classroom? I think one of our students put it best: “Coding the NAO robot helps us to become more technologically advanced, which is important, since our world is getting more advanced as time goes on.”
Cheri DiMartino is the director of the Department of Gifted and Talented Education Programs at Washoe County School District in Reno, NV.
| JUNE/JULY 2017

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