When COVID-19 sent our students, teachers, and staff members home in the spring of 2020, I was tasked with teaching the drone and robotics curricula remotely. It was a big ask, considering we couldn’t just put together a bunch of robotics kits and send them out to the students. Plus, our students had no experience with any of the robotics material.
My principal and I looked around and found CoderZ, an online robotics and coding platform. We contacted the company and checked it out. It fit our needs. We could use it as a standalone teaching mechanism or integrate with other subjects and topics. We could make it a part of a robotics/coding club, or have kids work on it on their own time. It gave us a lot of options. Soon we were rolling it out.
They ran with it
Ninety-nine percent of my students who take STEM classes signed up for CoderZ. I worked through the Cyber Robotics 101 and 102 courses with my seventh- and eighth-grade STEM classes. They ran with it.
My students enjoyed the work. They enjoyed puzzling through the missions. And since they were all home learning remotely, they looked for opportunities to do more. Many students would complete the assignments I gave them then come back and ask if they could go on. Of course, the answer is always yes because I love to see students working ahead.
The missions challenged them but not to the point where they gave up — even the beginners. This is important in the STEM world, where many subjects are confusing and difficult to learn, particularly for those students who have never been exposed to them before. Our platform paces them, so they build skills and gain confidence as they progress. New coders get to test their limits and more advanced students get to reach for bigger goals. I’m able to monitor their progress, provide support, and point them to additional learning resources. And all of this works together to keep them engaged and moving forward.
My principal, Mike Paperski, coined the phrase, “The ‘figure it out’ mentality.” This is profound because in school, there’s usually an answer. For instance, there’s an answer to every math problem. Students are used to this nice, neat formula. But with coding, there are multiple solutions and answers. My students had to adjust their thinking. They had to learn that they can get to a solution in different ways — they have to just figure that out.
Kids want something different, especially now. We’re able to give them that with a coding and robotics platform that can be used virtually. It gave them a way to get comfortable with challenge, stay engaged in school, discover new interests and build mental muscle.
And that’s a win.
Matthew Yena is a Health and STEM teacher at LaGrange Highlands Middle School in LaGrange, Ill. The school uses CoderZ for its coding and robotics courses and club.
Want more about STEM education? Sign up for STEM SmartBrief to get news like this in your inbox, or check out all of SmartBrief’s education newsletters, covering career and technical education, educational leadership, math education and more.