3/22/2018 12:15:00 PM
The robot that's teaching kids to code
STEM Education,Programmable Robot,Programming Education
App Developer Magazine

The robot that's teaching kids to code

Richard Harris Richard Harris in Programming Thursday, March 22, 2018

Programmable robot from robots4STEM is now in our schools to help garner interest in STEM.

Jett, a coding and programming robot designed for students of all ages, started school this week. The 22-inch-tall, 12-pound interactive learning companion is already teaching students in Texas and New Jersey the critical skills needed to ignite a lasting interest in STEM - without requiring teachers to change a single lesson plan.

Jett gives students the thrill of teaching their own robot to walk, wave and smile. “robots4STEM is showing kids the future of education, not just the boring stuff,” said Tonya Haddox, principal at Cedar Hill ISD Middle School in Cedar Hill, Texas. “It’s hands on and interactive, and they’re getting to do real-world things.”

Jett directly tackles one of the biggest challenges in STEM education, and ultimately the workplace: the critical shortage of students who say they want to pursue careers in technology. Just 16 percent of high school students said they’re interested in STEM-related careers, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Meanwhile, studies show that early exposure to STEM learning is directly connected to a sustained, long-term interest.

“We know how important STEM learning is, particularly at early grade levels, but historically it hasn’t been easy to implement into an already packed school year,” said Dr. Gregory Firn, who spent 30 years in education positions ranging from school principal to district superintendent, and is now chief operating officer of robots4STEM. “Jett gives us a whole curriculum of ready-made lessons without requiring teachers to become coders.”

Jett delivers a continuum of learning, starting with simple lessons progressing to complex topics, and lets children work at their own pace. Each student programs a virtual avatar that can look like Jett; when the code on-screen is correct, the student sends the commands to the robot, which executes on what it’s been told to do. Jett also looks like the students it serves. Both the avatar and Jett are customizable; the gender, hair and skin can be changed based on several options to match the audience it serves.

“Jett is so much more accessible than typical STEM activities like robotics competitions - which are great, but tend to happen in later grades,” said Firn. “We’re empowering all students to be agents of their own education. With Jett, underserved groups like girls, rural residents and minorities have the equal access to coding and STEM that they deserve.”

Jett is also intentionally affordable, and the tiered pricing model serves entire districts, grade bands or single grade levels. Jett and the robots4STEM curriculum provides unlimited, 24/7/365 access for as low as $17.50 per student per year, ensuring the program is available to students in all school districts. Most importantly, the students enjoy the lessons they learn from Jett.

“As they figure out more about the robot and what it can do, it’s definitely stirred some excitement in the kids,” said Clayton Mills, teacher at Cedar Hill ISD Middle School. “And having them see what they can produce is super beneficial, the kids have just reacted great to it.”

Jett’s standards-based curriculum pulls from the University of California at Berkeley’s Snap! early programming language. Students can learn at their own speed and from any location - during the school day, before or after class, from home, or as part of an extracurricular group.

“Our goal is to empower all children - especially traditionally underserved groups - by encouraging learner agency, which builds their confidence and capacity for independent thought,” said Firn. “In this way, we’re taking the burden off the educator, who plugs the program into the existing lesson plan and then becomes an activator and co-creator in the student’s journey.”

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