Robotics for All: WeDo in the Classroom
I have been involved in FIRST for about 10 years as an FRC Judge. In September 2018, my daughter started kindergarten. I wanted to form a FIRST LEGO League team, but I did not know anyone at her school, so I approached the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) and we organically formed a group of 6 kids through word-of-mouth. Another parent then told me that it is only “parents in the know” who benefit from these efforts, and it does not benefit all students who want to learn.
Our school is a Title 1 school and equity is very important to me personally. So first I tried an approach where, at the school STEM fair, I asked for names of interested students as well as parents who would be willing to mentor. As one might expect, the first list was very long and the second was very short. Also, it was almost impossible to schedule time after school for any activity, because the students were either doing other things, or the parents could not provide transportation. Hence, logistics, more than anything, was our biggest stumbling block.
So, I decided to try to introduce robotics in an equitable manner during school hours. For this, I needed the support of the school administration. Fortunately, our PTO is awesome, and the President of the PTO set up a meeting with the Principal, a very dedicated 4th grade teacher, and the school Talented and Gifted (TAG) coordinator. At the meeting, I learned that the school already had access to 14 iPads. That was a huge win as WeDo software runs on iPads. The class size was 26-28 students, so 10 WeDo kits, with each shared by 2-3 students, would be enough to run a class. The Principal was very supportive of the idea.
I set up a follow up meeting with the 4th grade teacher and the TAG teacher in which I demonstrated the WeDo kit and how easy it was to use the curriculum. Both teachers are wonderful and experienced educators, and taught me a lot about how classrooms work. The challenge was educating the teachers to use the kits and the curriculum, when they already have so much on their plates.
The TAG coordinator decided to implement the program as follows:
- Our team would donate 10 kits to the school
- The TAG coordinator, who works with only a few students at a time, would train her 4th and 5th grade students to use the kits
- Then the kits could be taken to the classrooms, and the TAG 4th and 5th graders would assist the teacher in teaching the curriculum with the kits. The 4th grade teacher would pilot this in her classroom.
They have implemented this program and it has been running since January 2019. The kits are in use from K-5th grade. The teachers have found it easy to use, especially with student-assistants helping out, and all the kids are having fun. It is not the full FIRST experience, but it certainly is better than nothing, and reaches every child in the school.
Now that the SPIKE Prime kit has been developed, we are getting one for the TAG coordinator to evaluate and develop a plan to teach the curriculum in the 4th and 5th grade. It is my hope that by the time these students reach middle school, we can have FIRST LEGO League as an elective and they will be ready for it.
Photo Credit: Bayou Builders, www.bayoubuilders.org