Toys such as LEGOs were once excluded during recess and lunch in elementary schools, but now they’re part of the curriculum. Quail Run Elementary students celebrated their robotic skills at the Epic Build Showcase, a day at which faculty and family all gather to see the LEGO machines they students built and the computer codes they use to control them.
“It’s been absolutely surprising,” Andrea Divijak, principle of Quail Run, said. “Watching kids embrace the technology and making things with it has been amazing. And now, the sixth graders can probably out program us.”
Quail Run Principle Divijak has three of her own children attending the school: Two first graders and a third grader.
“My kids love it,” Divijak said. “They actually pull up the coding programs at home. Seeing them get passionate and creating things with codes is such an exciting thing as a mom.”
This is Quail Run’s second year as a computer science immersion school and so far, the students have been ravenous for the technology.
“Some sixth graders were actually mad at me,” Divijak said. “They asked me why we didn’t start this when they were in kindergarten.”
The “Code to the Future” immersion begins as soon as students enter school. The kindergartners take their virtual baby steps by designing LEGO houses.
“They love the hands-on stuff, it’s right at their level,” said Pam Burwell, a kindergarten teacher. “They really pick it up fast.”
By constructing small Lego houses, the students understand shapes and building concepts, and then designing the interior of the home with a computer program gets them started with coding.
“I like my computer a lot,” said a kindergartner named Anthony. “I can make pictures with it and even sound.”
Moving up the grades, the coding and computing becomes incrementally more advanced. The second-grade classes build rudimentary LEGO machines and control them with their laptops via a Bluetooth connection.
“I am amazed,” said a parent of a coding second grader. “Now, she helps me log into my computer.”
Third graders use LEGOS to make a volcano threat system, with sensors and motors that can detect various levels of threat. By fourth grade, Quail Run Elementary students control the LEGO cars they’ve built—and even have them to drive and perform pre-programmed maneuvers.
“It’s great, their growth is so impressive,” said Jillian Mariano, fourth grade teacher. “We don’t have to explain anything to them anymore. They just can’t wait to get their hands on it.”
Finally, at sixth grade, the kids are building cars and programming them to detect an object (in this case a paper cup), grasp it with LEGO pincers and carry it to a programmed destination. Some of the robotic LEGO cars even drive along tape routes on the classroom floor.
“It’s easier for me to pick up a cup,” a sixth grader named Daniel said. “But it’s cool seeing the robot I programmed do it too.”
Computer science is the fastest growing career field, expanding at twice the rate of the national average, and Quail Run Elementary students certainly have a running start toward the rising field.
“There’s problem solving, team building, communication,” Divijak said. “They’re learning life-long skills at a young age.”
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