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The Role of the Robot: Teaching Robotics at Harley


by Owen Liotti ’18, sophomore on the Writing, Literature, and Publishing track at Emerson College. As a youngster, he majored in making robots out of Legos.

Images from Grs. 5 & 6 technology class

Featured in Becoming 2020

In some ways, we are living in a world only dreamt of by the futurists of yesteryear. Everyone has devices in their pockets with ten times the computing power of the spaceship that took us to the moon, and we have access to the wealth of all human knowledge at our fingertips. This new age of information is far-reaching: A study conducted by Common Sense Media concluded that by age 11, over 50 percent of children have their own smartphones, with some children becoming responsible for such a powerful piece of tech as young as age 8.* Although ubiquitous, it is important for our students to learn how to appropriately and effectively use this technology.

Jeanne Weber, Harley’s K–Grade 6 technology teacher, uses robots to help teach these lessons. Students receive immediate feedback as they learn to code and control the Ozobots, Sphero, and Dash and Dot robots in Technology class. Laughter and surprise abound as they quickly see their errors and omissions in programming played out by their electronic guinea pigs. They work together to find solutions and celebrate with each success, growing their capacity to think in sequential “if-then” commands.

By the time students reach Middle School, they are equipped with the ability to design, build, wire, and code their very own robots and animated contraptions. Middle School also fields an after school robotics team, coached by Kima Enerson, Maker Educator, and Seth O’Bryan, which gives the students a competitive proving ground for their coding skills and creativity. Robotics and automation projects in the Upper School can be found in the Commons makerspace as part of Ms. Enerson’s Design and Innovation class using Arduinos, as well as in Mr. O’Bryan’s Discrete Math classroom, where students code TI-Rovers with their calculators. Students are given many opportunities to explore automation and robotics in Middle School in maker morning and flextime offerings. In the Upper School they can pursue an authentic interest in this area through independent studies and capstones.

The study of robots helps students refine their coding skills from basic to sophisticated in order to realize the potential and power of these and other technological tools. Using Tinkercad, Scratch, Arduinos, and the Adobe suite of products allows students to imagine, design, and create innovative and complex ideas. The facilities in the Moore/Brown Center for Creative Media, makerspace, and the Commons house the physical tools to bring these ideas to life.