November 14, 2013

Robotics Program Coming to Friends’

The Rocky Mountain ∏rates demonstrate their work
to our elementary school students.
We had a scheduling snafu at Friends’ last week. No one’s fault, but it caused me to create a track in the elementary hallway as I paced back and forth, catching the technological marvels happening in both the Great Room and Mary Pearsall’s 4th grade classroom.

On one side of our building, Mary’s 4th graders were presenting wonderful films that they had made, telling stories of their experiences of the recent flooding in Boulder and explaining their scientific understanding of the erosion that had happened in our area.

In the Great Room, a group calling themselves The Rocky Mountain ∏rates (PIrates) were demonstrating to our other students an invention that was inspired by the same flooding. They were also running a robot of their own design through its paces.

Do you remember those days, not so long ago, when we were in school, when we demonstrated our learning by giving a speech, or perhaps creating a poster with our information? No longer.

Our Friends’ students today are using the latest technological tools to learn and connect and problem solve.

Director of Technology
Stephen Butler
Our school is investing in brand new robotics kits and piloting new robotics and programming classes in our 2nd and 4th grades with Director of Technology, Stephen Butler. Our students will learn how to build robots and program them to accomplish set tasks.

A quick wander through the elementary school this week and it’s not hard to find the social studies books that were created by the 5th grade class in the school’s up-to-date computer lab. I came across 2nd graders using our mobile iPad cart to conduct research.  I had a conversation with Tricia Callahan who is thrilled to be taking a multi-week professional development course on iPads with a number of her colleagues and is incorporating what she has learned into her literacy and spelling lessons.

In 4th and 5thgrades, teachers Mary Pearsall and Liz Richards have started a new unit on Antarctica and are working with a researcher who is currently conducting research in Antarctica.  In class, students watched a video on the computers and iPads that Mary had created using the Educreations App.  She made a read-aloud story
4th grade teacher Mary Pearsall
about the book The Lost Seal using this program.  That allowed the lesson to be child-centered and differentiated for those students who might have had some trouble reading some of the words.  Students collaborated and worked in small groups to take notes based on this book-video.  

The Rocky Mountain ∏rates, composed of Friends’ 3rd grader Quinn Kiefer, as well as Friends’ alumni Lucas and Jack Kiefer, Cameron Hoeffler and their friend Zach Olkin, are participating in both the First Lego League (FLL) and Vex IQ robotics competition programs this year. They won significant awards at Vex IQ in the spring.  The First Lego League challenges teams of elementary and middle-schoolers to complete a series of missions on a 4’x8’ field using a robot of their design. In addition, they were challenged to develop an innovative solution to help people cope with natural disasters.  In last Friday's gathering the ∏rates presented what they have been up to with FLL.  

The Rocky Mountain ∏rates with their trophies!
They started off with a 5 minute presentation where they outlined their innovative solution to the problem of basement flooding caused by broken window wells.  The "Window Watcher" is a retractable water shield that covers the window with impenetrable Rhino Canvas if a flash flood alert is issued over a cellular network. The team researched the problem, developed the solution, prototyped the product and ultimately filed a patent to protect their invention.

Friends’ School students were most interested in the intricately designed robots that the team designed to run missions and earn points on this year's "FLL Nature's Fury" robot game. The kids got a close up look into how each robot was designed to complete each mission.  For example the team created a 4 wheel drive "crawler" bot to bring a load of Lego people and supplies 8 feet over a series of ever more challenging Lego barriers.  

On Saturday the ∏rates competed in an FLL qualifying tournament at Monarch High School in which they came in 1st place over all and 2nd place in Robot Performance.  The judges said that they had the best project (the “Window Watcher”) and robot design of any of the teams.  They were especially impressed with how each of the team members showed "gracious professionalism" and seemed to be having so much fun!

4th & 5th graders Skyping with a researcher in Antartica
I got to do a little coaching for the team on their presentation and public-speaking skills before the competition.  I was amazed at their adaptability and their willingness to learn and take suggestions.

Our students watching on Friday were inspired by this dynamic team and can’t wait to get their own hands on designing robots of their own. 


We’re excited to bring this new element to our program and to witness all of our students innovate and apply critical and cooperative thinking skills in new ways.

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