In Byram Hills, the robotics and coding program has become an indispensable part of the curriculum at every grade level. The goal for grades K-8 is to develop student interest by exposing them to robotics, coding, 3D modeling, and electronics, while the objective in the high school is to provide higher-level elective options that allow students to go deeper into the content. No matter what college major or career option a student decides to pursue, robotics and coding may play a role.
At Coman Hill, Mrs. Rekha Singh, Building Technology Coordinator, said “Coding and robotics are examples of critical thinking which helps students develop resilience, problem-solving abilities, and persistence.”
Coding and robotics are introduced in kindergarten and there are several advantages to engaging students at the elementary school level. Learning to program empowers children. It puts the students in control and through experimentation builds mastery in sequencing skills, counting, and logical thinking.
“Students love making things work,” said Mrs. Singh. “In first grade, students feel challenged and excited about programming the BeeBot robots to move on a board that simulates the town of Armonk. In second grade, students work with a partner to solve a problem that an Animal Adventure Island is facing with pollution, global warming, and too much trash. The students use ‘Dash and Dot’ robots and write codes to help rescue the animals in their habitats.”
These are real-world, authentic learning experiences that introduce students to digital literacy. The lessons are scaffolded and each year builds upon the year before. Robotics and coding at Coman Hill provide excellent opportunities for students to work at their own pace and to their highest level of ability.
At Wampus, the technology curriculum has changed dramatically since the new STEAM Lab, Hub 21, was created in 2016. Thanks to the generosity of the Byram Hills Education Foundation, the open space boasts four interactive Nureva span walls, Ozobots, LittleBits, 3D printers, and Google Expeditions.
Wampus students are presented with several exercises on Digital Citizenship and Digital Literacy as an essential part of the curriculum.
“We have Google Slides and Google Suite for Education. We don’t have to teach students how to use it because they instinctively know and teach each other,” said Mr. Al Lovelace, Wampus Building Technology Coordinator. “Now we are facilitating experiences in STEAM, robotics, and coding and in Hub 21 and we are doing it all through student choice."
Wampus Robotics builds from Coman Hill’s ‘Dash and Dot’ program. These robots help students learn the basics. Next, the students are introduced to ‘Ozobots,’ which are smaller, individual robots, programmed with colored markers to follow lines. Mr. Lovelace said, “From there we move to digitally coding on iPads.”
In the 5th grade, students are introduced to ‘Jimu’ robots. These robots are more complicated, need to be built, and have many pieces. “There are multiple challenging robotics and coding opportunities when students come into Hub 21,” said Mr. Lovelace.
H.C. Crittenden Middle School
“Robotics and coding force students to use computational thinking,” said Ms. Dawn Selnes, H.C. Crittenden Building Technology Coordinator. “It is in the HCC BoT Spot when students start to apply their knowledge from elementary school into task-based commands.” Solving problems with technology to improve the lives of others, Empathy Based Design is an essential part of the HCC curriculum.
Ms. Selnes offers video tutorials that give students hands-on knowledge of how to program a robot but does not tell them how to conquer every obstacle. “Students have to think about how to take the information they are given and use it towards the challenge they are being tasked with,” Ms. Selnes said. “To direct their robot with precise instruction the students apply proportional reasoning and math to figure out how to get their robot to go an exact distance.”
In Grade 7, students are introduced to ‘Sphero Bolts’, which are little round robots that roll on the floor and are highly programmable. There is also Misty II, a humanoid type of robot that can be programmed in several ways.
“If you can problem-solve, debug, and know how to code, even a little, it makes you so much more marketable today,” said Ms. Selnes. “I try to let students come up with ways to solve their issues independently by using the 5 C’s. They must think creatively and critically, communicate, collaborate, and work as a community.” When students complete a challenge, they are so proud of themselves.
Byram Hills High School
“The first thing I ask of students in a Robotics 1 class is to take apart a robot,” said Mr. Peter Lichten, Byram Hills High School Building Technology Coordinator. “I keep robots from prior years so students can dismantle them. This helps with manual dexterity to manipulate the different parts and gives students a sense of where the motors and gears are located."
“Many students are worried that they don’t know how to code,” Mr. Lichten said. “But within a short time, everyone grasps the key concepts. They begin to see the sequential nature of coding and the step by step process.”
Students are then given a little robot chassis, which is sometimes referred to as the robot’s frame and allows mobility. “I give students all of the parts they need, including a motor, battery, gear, and a shaft and explain the goal,” said Mr. Lichten. “For example, drive your robot and park it in a space within the arena.” Mr. Lichten’s three Robotic electives are structured in the same way. Students are given a problem and the opportunity to solve it.
Mr. Lichten said, “The robots are a means to an end. We’re using them to develop problem-solving skills. It is taking something that’s intrinsic, that allows you to conquer one big objective and solve a million smaller problems within it yourself.”
Robot Master is the third class available in Robotics which allows students to build robots for a VEX competition. In the VEX Robotics Competition, student teams are tasked with designing and building a robot to play against other schools in a game-based engineering challenge. This is the third year Byram Hills has participated in the competition.
“Robotics technology is challenging and it helps students see things in the real world and not just on a screen because it draws upon their powers of observation,” said Mr. Lichten. “It’s tangible, 3- Dimensional, and students love seeing that they caused something to happen.”
Today’s students will live and work in a dynamic, technology-driven world. “Computer Science, robotics, and engineering all help students understand how technology works, increases ability to code practical applications, develops creativity, fosters innovative/critical thinking, encourages collaboration, and promotes inclusivity,” said Dr. Andrew Taylor, Byram Hills Director of Technology. “Byram Hills is preparing our students for the future.”