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Reading, Writing… and Robotics

IT Grad Students Let Automatons Do the Teaching

From the fictional icons of Isaac Asimov and George Lucas to real-life prototypes engineered at M.I.T., robots have captured our imaginations for what they can do. Now they are capturing our imaginations for what they can teach.

With help from Touro University Graduate School of Technology and the crowd-funding site Donors Choose, Alicia Wade and Arnulfo Rivera − New York City school teachers enrolled in GST’s Instructional Technology (IT) program — have purchased Lego’s Mindscape robotics construction kits to teach their students valuable skills in everything from coding to collaborating. They say robotics can be a valuable educational tool with long term benefits that reach into real life worlds of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math), business or healthcare.

Using sophisticated snap-together Lego parts outfitted with USB ports, electronic connectivity, and programmable software, students can build robots and instruct them to walk, roll, grip, or crawl.

At my school, students learn more from project-based learning and doing hands on activities, said Wade, a 11th grade teacher at the School for Legal Studies, a college and career prep school in Brooklyn. She said many have not even been exposed to the basics of computers or the field of computer science and are unaware of all the opportunities that are out there by simply learning how to code.

The teachers say they want to give their students the same opportunities that all students have, no matter what their backgrounds are. We want them to develop the computational skills of algorithm development, problem solving, and programming, in contexts that are relevant to the lives of today’s students, said Rivera, who teaches 6th Grade at Lola Rodrigues De Tio Junior High School, in The Bronx.

Robotics makes the subject matter interesting and engages students to participate. Students discover, explore, connect, and command the robots, said Rivera. Watching and listening to them practice "stringing" code to get their characters to move and interact on the monitor has been eye-opening. Their concentration, rationalizing, and communication skills have been positively impacted. The groups get a memorable, hands on and valuable team learning experience, he said.

Jay Lefkowitz, Director of Special Projects and Chief of Staff at the Dean's Office of the GST says a major goal of the Instructional Technology Program is to empower graduate students, who serve as teachers in various public schools throughout the city. They learn to enhance the curriculum by implementing their technology skills directly into their K-12 classrooms, said Lefkowitz.

The Lego Mindscape robotic kits awarded to Alicia and Arnulfo by Donors Choose is a wonderful example of how this can be accomplished, Lefkowitz said, adding, At GST we are very proud of their creativity and accomplishments and are certain that their pupils will enjoy and benefit greatly by using this state-of-the-art educational technology.