Dash and Sphero rolled around the floor of the media center at Paw Creek Elementary. The small, roly-poly robots, reminiscent of BB-8 from Star Wars, had been programmed by fifth-graders who were putting them through their paces.
"Dash moves and you can make it turn its head and make sounds," said student Luca Close. "We're learning to program things and have fun while we do it."
Iyannah Derring said programming was difficult when she first started, but now she understands it. "You just get better and better each day," Iyannah said. "It's really great – you should try it."
The Paw Creek computer-science immersion magnet program with a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) focus is in its first year. The program receives students through magnet/school-options lottery assignments as well as neighborhood attendance-zone assignments. All students receive the same magnet-theme instruction.
The school has a partnership with Code to the Future to teach students coding, which involves developing and writing scripts for computer programs. Principal Danielle Belton said students learn in three different cycles. Learning to code comes first. They move on to robotics, where they partner with other students to build robots, and they use Minecraft to create their own computer games.
"In the next few years, there will be a 1 million-job gap in the computer science field," Belton said. "Our students are learning critical thinking, problem solving and getting a foundation they can build on."
Lessons are integrated into the school's STEM unit and provide opportunities for hands-on learning, collaboration and creativity. Students invent something as an inventor's project and in Genius Hour they research and engage in projects that interest them. Students have use of an Innovation Lab and Makerspace and have built everything from race cars and rockets to roller coasters, Belton said.
Teacher Cassie Webb's third-grade class was in Makerspace, working in teams to create a structure that would keep a tissue dry when water was poured over it. They had a limited set of materials that included cups, pipe cleaners and cotton balls.
Webb said her students have learned a lot about collaboration and the creative process since they began working on projects. Her students now develop their own teams, paying attention to each other's individual skills. They also have overcome any frustration when a project fails.
"Now they get that process, how to evaluate what they're doing and not view it as a competition," Webb said. "They've been a lot more invested and it's exciting."
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