A holiday surprise arrived early this year for some fifth graders at Pleasant Ridge Elementary. The students in Rebecca Cissel’s classroom were hard at work one morning when they heard an electronic voice greet them from underneath the teacher’s desk: “Hello, Team Cissel!”
It was a small, blue, ball-shaped robot named “Dot.” He arrived with a friend -- a larger robot, “Dash,” who has wheels and can be programmed to drive around the classroom floor. The students might think these are toys, but the robots are here to help them learn, explained Cissel.
“The ultimate goal is for them to connect the problem-solving here with what they’re learning in science and math,” she said.
The robots are controlled via iPad apps that teach the basics of coding. They can also be used for lessons in many subject areas, from science to reading. “Dash” comes with a ball launcher and targets that can be used in a force and motion experiment. The two robots can be programmed to read dialogues from books together. And there are many other apps and accessories the class will be learning to use.
Cissel said she first learned about the robots at a Gaston County Schools professional development workshop and then started researching ways she could use them. “The more I learned, the more I wanted them in my classroom because of the problem-solving skills they can teach,” she said.
Students learn perseverance as well as how to solve big problems by breaking them down into smaller steps, Cissel said. She also wants to start preparing her students for the growing number of jobs in computer programming.
In their first couple weeks with the robots, the students are learning the basics of how to control them. Cissel divided the class into teams and has been giving them challenges such as programming “Dash” to follow a path on the floor and then “celebrate” with lights and sounds when he crosses the finish line.
The students have renamed the robots by popular vote. “Dash” became “Lil' Ron-Ron,” and “Dot” is now “Justice.” They love them both. “I like when ‘Justice’ turns into an 8-ball and a light saber,” said Raul Villifuerte-Calleja, referencing a few of the introductory games.
“I like that we can direct them to tell them what to do,” said Destiny Moore.
“You can tell ‘Lil' Ron-Ron’ where to go and make him speak,” said Mattalyn Penninger. “It’s my favorite part of the day.”
“Robots are my favorite part of this year,” another student agreed.
During a recent lesson, Cissel encouraged the class to come up with their own ideas for the robots. “You learn so much more when you do. When you take that and create something to share with other people, you will learn a lot more than just doing problems,” she said. “My goal with ‘Justice’ and ‘Lil' Ron-Ron’ is you take this and run with it.”
Gaston County Board of Education member Dot Cherry stopped by Cissel’s classroom recently to watch the robots in action. “You can see how excited the students are,” she said. “I think it’s great that (Cissel) is exposing them to different things. It encourages them in math, science, and language arts.”
“Our students love learning using these robots,” said principal Glenn Cook. “They are thinking critically, problem-solving, and learning how to work collaboratively with one another and having fun doing it too.”
Cissel was able to purchase the robots by posting a request on the pledgecents.com educational fundraising site. Many Gaston County Schools teachers have similar fundraising projects posted on the donorschoose.org website. Visit the site and search for Gaston County or Gastonia to see a list of current requests.
In compliance with federal law, Gaston County Schools administers all education programs, employment activities and admissions without discrimination against any person on the basis of gender, race, color, religion, national origin, age, or disability. Inquiries regarding compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities, may be referred to the school district's Title IX coordinator at email@example.com or to the Office for Civil Rights, United States Department of Education.