Catholic Schools: Coding and Robotics in the Classroom
By Laura McCaffrey
Laura McCaffrey is the Director of School Support & Academic Services at the Archdiocese of Hartford. Over the last two years, fifteen schools in the archdiocese have started using Wonder Workshop.
Technology is always changing and it seems that new devices, programs and apps appear every week to tempt the consumer. However, there is far more to technology than the newest “shiny toy,” especially for educators who know that it must support the curriculum and be fully integrated into their lesson plans. Faculty in schools throughout the Archdiocese of Hartford are employing technology successfully in their classrooms, as illustrated by the following examples focused on coding and robotics.
The first school we’ll highlight is St. Mary School in Milford. Ms. Sara Frampton, the second grade teacher is a leader in bringing coding and robotics into her classroom, providing her students with access to iPads, which have an app used to program “Dot and Dash” robots from Wonder Workshop. Utilizing this app, the second graders employ cooperative groups to develop critical problem solving skills. For instance, the students learn about shapes and measurements using the app and the robots. Working in groups, the students program Dash to create a shape on the floor, then when it is time to learn about measurements, the students program Dash to move a particular distance and then they calculate that distance.
Our second featured school is St. Mary School in Simsbury where Ms. Gina Raymond, the middle school math teacher, has integrated Swift Playgrounds coding into her classes. Swift Playgrounds is an app offering a series of puzzles that students solve while learning programming basics such as functions, loops, conditional code, and logical operators. It requires no prior coding knowledge. Students proceed through a series of challenging and complex problems as they maneuver their avatar through a fun world on their iPad. Each challenge is presented with instructions employing real-world tangible scenarios to which most students can relate. The result is that middle school math classes are infused not only with mathematical concepts, but also with the application of those concepts through coding (and engineering via whole group simulations).
Students understand the benefits of breaking down complex problems as well as the need to demonstrate the work and thought process involved in solving those problems. Coding also gives students the opportunity to help one another. Their coding and engineering classes are taught in heterogeneous groups allowing those students for whom coding is intuitive to assist those for whom coding is challenging. These skills of both asking for coaching and providing the coaching are invaluable as our students move to collaborative work forces in the future.
Next, we’ll highlight St. Gabriel School in Windsor, where Ms. Christina Carmon, the Technology Coordinator assists students in Kindergarten through grade eight in the use of coding. St. Gabriel School uses code.org as an instructional tool to bring coding to the students who are assigned a course that is developmentally appropriate for them. The youngest students are using the “Pre-Reader Express” that offers the core curriculum for those who are not yet reading or who are new to reading. Students in elementary school are enrolled in the Computer Science Fundamentals course, which blends online and “unplugged” non-computer activities to teach students computational thinking, problem solving, programming concepts, and digital citizenship. Middle school students are enrolled in Computer Science Discoveries, an introductory course that empowers students to engage with Computer Science as a medium for creativity, communication, problem solving, and fun.
As the year progresses and the students become comfortable with coding and acquire basic knowledge, they will begin to work with Scratch. Scratch, is from MIT Media Lab which is a free programming language and online community where students can create their own interactive stories, games, and animations.
Think coding is just for big kids? Well, not at Corpus Christi School in Wethersfield, where the Pre K-4 students use coding with the Code-a-pillar from Fisher Price®. Ms. Diane Moreau-Elmer used the Code-a-Pillar to introduce sequencing, helping the students understand geometry and spatial awareness. First, Ms. Moreau-Elmer used an everyday example to describe sequence in coding, then she constructed a floor grid and print out arrows. The Code-a-pillar was then programmed by the students to find its way home on the grid.
Mrs. Amy McKearney, IT Coordinator at Corpus Christi School, explains that a new center at the school is integrating more computer science driven activities into the school’s curriculum. The students and teachers went through courses on Code.org already this year. The elementary school worked on the introductory class to make sure all the students were exposed to the material. This course guided students through coding and the steps for debugging. The students learned at their own pace and advanced based on their ability. The school had 100% participation of all grades during the Hour of Code the week of December 4th. The school received eight Dot and Dash robots in January of 2018 for the lower grades. And the Middle school will be programming with five new Lego Mindstorms Robotics kits. The Lego Mindstorms Robotics Kit contains close to twenty different robots that can be built. The mobile device apps allow the students to bring their robots to life. According to Mrs. McKearney, “This is only the beginning for opening up the computer science minds at Corpus Christi School. We are energized with this futuristic learning for our students”.
Coding and robotics are vital activities for today’s students, providing them with the skills necessary for many of their future careers. Throughout the Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Hartford, coding and robotics are successfully integrated into the curriculum, engaging students in reflective thought process, listening to alternative opinions and collaborative problem solving to promote optional learning. These relatively new educational frontiers provide students with important resources they will need to achieve success in the years to come, both academically and ultimately, professionally.