Cedar Hill ISD in Texas is known for its forward thinking and for dedicating its schools to providing the best education that will set their students up for success as early as elementary. The district offers innovative classes centered on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) that step away from the traditional learning module of the past century. Their curriculum is designed to engage students in learning by turning them into active participants in their education.
Cedar Hill is constantly on the lookout for new technology and teaching methods, an endeavor that brought them to RoboKind, a robotics education company. During a two-week camp over the summer, Cedar Hills’ Permenter Middle School introduced Robokind’s Robots4STEM program to the sixth- and seventh-grade students who would be working with the program over the school year. RoboKind then visited the school in the second week to see what students had learned during their time at camp.
“All right, guys,” Clayton Mills, the computer lab teacher, called for attention and pointed to the interactive board at the front of the class, “using the command blocks, you need to make Jett do ten things.” In an instant, the students paired up into teams, turned to their computers, and made the digital avatar named Jett move through different poses.
After ten minutes, Mills had the teams move their code from the digital avatar to the robot. For one group, their code had Jett put his arms up zombie-style and walk toward the end of the table. “I see you and I’m coming for you,” he said, making the students burst into laughter. From another group, Jett broke out into a dance, saying, “Let’s get down.”
The second lesson had students programming conversations between two characters called sprites. Using blocks of time called wait blocks, groups figured out how to pace a conversation so the sprites wouldn’t talk over each other. It only took a few seconds for students to comprehend Mills’ instructions and put them to use. “Having a visual programming language and a system that shows instant results helps the students learn quicker,” Mills told RoboKind, adding that “it makes me look good. It makes everyone look good. The product really sells itself.”
It wasn’t just the students showing interest in Robots4STEM, either. Fellow teachers visiting the lab during session also participated from time to time. Lekisha Geter, an English Language Arts (ELA) teacher, visited and asked the students several questions. She told RoboKind during a break that she saw other potential applications for Jett outside of the computer lab: “We could help students that struggle with English, or help teach other classes that are dry subjects. With the robot, kids are immediately interested.”
Candace Jackson, the teacher for seventh-grade Texas History, said, “You can see the kids’ excitement.” That excitement carried over into the evening showcase that closed out the summer camp. Students were eager to show their parents what they could make Jett do and say. “I wish this was around when I was in school,” several parents told RoboKind during the showcase.
The students told RoboKind that Robots4STEM was easy to learn. For some who had the chance to lead groups in the programming exercises, it gave them confidence to be a leader. “I’ve learned how to speak better and think through what I’m trying to say,” said a sixth-grader. Robots4STEM opened the doors to a world of possibility, which is exactly what Cedar Hills ISD is all about.