LATHAM, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Robots have become an essential part of life. This year, a local school has become one of the first in the state to implement new computer science standards by launching a new robotics and coding program that’s being used at all grade levels, kindergarten through senior year of high school.
This year, inside the halls of Catholic Central, there is a different kind of teacher. Whirring down the hall, you’ll find a two-wheeled rotund robot with a friendly face, known as Photon. “Photon is the only robotics program that has been studied at the university level,” explained Lily Spera, the elementary school principal at Catholic Central School.
Driven by the data, Spera put the tech to the test in every classroom. Fifth grader Julia Harley said, “Well, I’m not the best with technology, but once I started using Photon, I think that changed. It makes it step-by-step, very easy so anyone can do it.”
The playful sounds and easy interface put the students at ease to help them learn the basics of coding to more advanced programming. Fifth grade teacher Ms. Maria Rauche demonstrated on the iPad as she explained, “The kids can take this idea and write their own program.”
“On here, with the Photon, I can actually visualize what he’s going to do,” said seventh grader Haley Clark.
Clark’s knowledge of Photon is now being passed down to younger students as she teaches kindergarten students how to control the bot with simple commands. “It brings out like a really social version of yourself and helps you be a part of a team. And you are learning technology, which is such a big part of our world, and we all have to adapt and learn it,” she added.
By September of 2024, the New York State Education Department will require all schools to fully implement a new set of computer science standards.
Spera said, “They’re moving into the scope of the computer programming standard. They’re going to require schools have programs that meet the standards that align with computer programming. Traditionally, when you talk about robotics programming for these new standards that are coming out, I think most folks are going to think of a programming teacher, a robotics teacher. It’s done in isolation. There would be a computer lab that the kids go to. But we’re doing it in a way that it’s integrated into the classroom, and it’s able to be applied across multiple grade levels.”
Getting the students ready for the future is still dependent on the teacher.
“Technology is for sure taking over the world, right? The last thing we want is to have a robot be the teacher. It’s all about intentional choices. When you see Photon in the classroom — sure it’s a robot and its technology and they’re using an iPad or their phones to help move Photon — but what you have to look for are the class discussions, the critical thinking that you see beyond the robot,” explained Spera.
Ms. Racuhe added, “Anytime you introduce something new you’re always hesitant. It actually hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be.”
In class, the students are processing more than just computer skills. “When you play with Photon you’re not just in a book the whole time or in a computer. You’re actually doing something with a friend,” said Harley.
And there are still things a robot can’t do, like spark a classroom comment like the one we heard from 10-year-old Landon Penney, “I’m surprised that humanity has become so advanced! I used to have small kindles, then a bigger iPad and now we have this. Robots with wireless connection.”
Teaching us all a lesson in what the future holds, swapping books for bots, to stay well ahead of schedule and acquire skills for a brave new chapter in technology.
This year, Catholic Central has 20 robots and 40 classroom kits to help the teachers facilitate lessons. Each robot costs around $249.