Bunnell Elementary School will offer robotics and computer programming to all Bunnell students as part of the 'wheel' cycle of classes this year.
On the tablecloth was a Diet Coke can, with some spindly paper-clip legs and wings. Flip a switch, and a little vibrating motor made the Soda Can Robug scoot around on the table — all by itself! It was spectacular!
I had to hide my enthusiasm for this little gadget because apparently it's only the starting point, according to Michele Mantell, a technology teacher at Bunnell Elementary School. She was behind the school's table on Saturday, Aug. 8, at the district's Back 2 School Jam at Flagler Palm Coast High School, discussing the new robotics and computer programming classes that all students can take at Bunnell this school year.
"The kids learn how to make an object move, but now what else would I want it to do?" Mantell said. "How would I solve a problem with it?"
A Diet Coke can moves around on the table all by itself, and there's a problem with that? I wouldn't mind getting one of these kits for Christmas. But I guess this is the year 2015, not 1991. Kids aren't satisfied until they can control it using an iPad.
"Last year we did the robotics and programming club after school, but this year it will be part of the 'wheel,'" she said. "So many of the kids were interested that we wanted to open it up."
The former media center at Bunnell Elementary has been divided into four stations for the class: research, robotics, engineering and presentation. The class fits perfectly with Bunnell's flagship program, green technology.
Karissa Jackson, who will be going into sixth grade this year, was one of the original 15 students in the after-school club two years ago. The class members completed 20 hours of computer coding that year, earning a $1,000 grant that ultimately paid for LEGO Mindstorms, another robotics project that has proven to be popular with the students.
"I love it," Karissa said of the class. "I wasn't expecting it to be as interactive as it was. I was expecting paper and pencil."
Thanks to the hands-on activities, Mantell said, the students see how math can be applied to real life. They engage in scientific inquiry, test solutions and then adjust.
"We want to give them the power over the learning," Mantell said.
And Karissa has been a good example of someone who has discovered an aptitude that she might not otherwise have found, had it not been for the class.
"She's a tenacious programmer," Mantell said. "If she hits a road block in coding, she's going to work it, work it until she figure it out. She wants to own it."