Robotics demo has Grade 3 Catholic board students teaching teachers

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Windsor Star/Sharon Hill


Eight-year-old Kalleigh Watson can make a robot roll across a table, flash its lights and say words.

It was too noisy in the cafe to hear the one-eyed robot though because Grade 3 students from St. Jules and St. Rose Catholic elementary schools were teaching the teachers Thursday about robotics and coding at the Brewin’ Bros. Beverage Company on Walker Road. It was a professional development day with a twist.

The 44 students were showing 21 teachers and 10 administrators with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board what they have been learning in the last few weeks in a new elementary robotics initiative. It has students learning how to code and control Dash and Dot, and Sphero brand robots and Makey-Makey (circuit boards). 

“My favourite part was experimenting with what they did, like how did they do that and how did I get them to do that,” said Watson, a student at St. Jules school.

Her teacher, Mike Kosty, said one of the biggest growth industries in the world is computer programming so it’s good for them to be introduced to coding and programming at an early age.

“It’s the first I heard about it this year, it blew my mind,” he said of the robots coming to Grade 3 classrooms.

At first, the children just wanted to stare at what was like a little pet to them, he said. Once they saw they could make it move, they were eager to learn how.

“They’re more advanced than I am,” he said of their skills now.

The growth of the program is only limited by the cost of the technology, he said. Thursday’s event let other Grade 3 teachers see how the technology could be used in the classroom before they got their school’s robots and circuit boards to introduce into the curriculum.

Laurie Clement, the board’s technology enabled learning and teaching contact, said the board spent about $55,000 on 240 devices so each school could have a kit of seven robots and circuit boards worth about $1,250. The schools already have iPads and laptops to use with the devices.

The board introduced the robots and circuit boards about a month ago to two schools so the students could demonstrate how they work on Thursday.

“It’s created such a vibe,” Clement said.

It’s more than learning computer programming, she said. It’s about problem solving, learning resilience when the robot isn’t doing what you wanted it to do, and critical thinking which would be useful skills in any future job, she said.

Neil Polachok, an eight-year-old student from St. Rose Catholic Elementary School, learned how to run a circuit board by making a paper piano. He could press the sensors on the keys to create sounds on a computer.

“It’s fun to make all the instruments and how you design them. Programming is fun, too.”