Schools’ curriculum get boost from Heritage grant


St._Mary_with_cutlineBy Claudia Mathis
Staff writer

Barbara Jacques, recently-appointed principal at St. Mary’s School in Baldwinsville, was pleased to learn that the school had received a grant from the Heritage Campaign to advance its technology curriculum.

The funds are being used to introduce a new technology program called “robotics,” a field of computer science and engineering that involves the creation of robots.

As the former principal of Rome Catholic School, Jacques is familiar with the benefits of the robotics program. The robotics program was launched at Rome Catholic in 2008 by a similar grant. “It was so successful, I wanted to incorporate it here at St. Mary’s,” said Jacques. “It’s a wonderful program. It stimulates them to learn more and it enhances their academic success.”

Robotics is aimed at configuring learning environments that can actively involve students in authentic problem solving and enhance their research attitudes. It also allows them to carry out their own experiments and investigations and helps them to develop their abstracting skills leading to teamwork, independence, imagination and creativity.

On Oct. 7, Jacques and St. Mary’s technology teacher, Katherine Dee traveled to Rome to observe Rome Catholic’s sixth grade technology students as they built their robots. Rome Catholic’s technology integration specialist, Sandra Engle, guided the students. Dee was impressed by the robotics program and liked it very much.

A partnership has developed between the two schools. Engle will mentor Dee during the implementation of the new program at St. Mary’s.

Engle said the robotics program has been well received by the students. “It’s added meaning and excitement to their day,” noted Engle. “The students look forward to attending the class,” she said.

Nick Wilson, a seventh grader at Rome Catholic, said that working on his robot was a positive experience for him. “I have learned that patience and learning can pay off and turn into something fun.”

Engle said the robotics program is usually introduced into the school’s curriculum over an eight-week period. “They learn how to take traditional classroom concepts and put them into real life applications,” she said. The syllabus fosters engineering skills such as reading engineering manuals, journaling and interpreting scientific diagrams.

Engle explained the steps the children take in erecting their robots. First, they take an inventory of all the robot’s parts. If any are missing, the students order the missing pieces to restore the robot kit. At the end of the class period, students store their robots in what Engle calls a “parking garage” — a plastic storage container.

The students are responsible for charging their robots each morning.

They also learn about gears, motors, ratios and flow-charting.

A number of the sixth grade students, after completing the introductory class, have chosen to attend an enriched robotics course that is held after school. During this class time, engineers from Air Force Research Labs in Rome come into the classroom to enhance the students’ education.

Rome Catholic also received a program enhancement grant this year through the Heritage Campaign for a new computer lab. It will also complete the full spectrum of robotics education from the elementary student level with the addition of the WeDo Robots to the high school level with the inception of the TETRIX Robots.

Working with the WeDo Robots makes it possible for younger students to build and program their own solutions.

TEXTRIX Robots, a design system for high school engineering curriculums, provides a platform for fostering engineering skills.

Engle said that students would begin using the new robot kits within a week or two.

Jack O’Shaughnessy, sixth grader at Rome Catholic, has completed building his robot. When asked if he enjoyed working on it he replied, “Yes, because I really like to program them and build them.” When asked what he learned from the process he said, “Teamwork is very important.”

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