Using tablet computers, a group of fifth-graders at Fritsch Elementary School directed a robot named Dash to slide across the floor, stop, spin around and wink.
“They’re really fun,” said Laurence Tolentino, 12. “We can make them do lots of stuff. You can even make them speak.”
Dash is one of a pair of robots, along with Dot, purchased by technology teacher Irene Waltz.
“Looking to careers for their future, understanding coding is necessary for writing scripts,” she said. “That is useful for jobs in all kinds of areas. They can piece together the skills to do whatever the future holds for them.”
Rather than create lessons for the students, Waltz said, she allows them to self-direct by watching instructional videos on YouTube.
“They’re taking the lead,” she said. “It’s not me. They’re making their own decisions.”
Emily Tran, 10, likes the freedom that affords.
“You can get as creative as you want,” Tran said. “You can make little plays and scenes happen. It’s like your own little playground.”
However, even YouTube doesn’t have all the answers.
“We tried to make it launch little balls into a basket, but we couldn’t because Dash isn’t strong enough,” said Tristan Perez, 11. “We’ve tried so many times, but it’s failed.”
Still, they’re not giving up.
“We’ll keep trying,” Tristan said.
That kind of perseverance and teamwork will serve the students well in all areas of life, Waltz said.
It’s what helped get the technology to the school in the first place. After researching the robots online, Waltz was assured the tablets she already had in her classroom would be compatible.
Once she ordered the bots — using money her classroom raised by recycling ink cartridges — she realized the tablets didn’t work.
Out of money, and seemingly out of options, she planned to return to the robots — until school librarian Kay O’Neil stepped in.
O’Neil offered her funds from the recycled cartridges to buy the tablets as a collaboration between the two classes.
O’Neil said as a librarian she recognizes the value of helping students become literate not only with the written word but with technology as well.
“I use a lot of technology in the library,” she said. “The kids need to learn how to use it well. Mrs. Waltz and I are extensions of each other.”
David Stoffer, 11, welcomes the challenge.
“I think it’s good for us to learn programming so it can help in the future with a job or an activity,” he said. “And it’s not too hard. It’s moderate.”