Today’s Contributor: Veronica Burke
My name is Veronica Burke and I am the Reading Specialist at Blanton Elementary. I’ve worked at my campus for 10 years. I’ve taught 2nd and 3rd grade and this is my 2nd year as the CIC.
Over the past ten years, I have seen major changes at my campus. Our computer lab has changed from desktops to laptops. Kindergarten and Pre-K classes now have iPads available for use. 4th graders are learning to code. It is all great progress, but at the end of the day it feels like there is a missing piece to the puzzle.
Last year, a handful of teachers began teaching GT STEM camps after school. There were limited sessions in the spring, but the feedback was amazing. Kids loved the activities and the turnout was great. This year, the camp was offered again to students in 1st-5th grade. To make things even better, our awesome technology cadre purchased Ozobots and Sphero robots through our Families as Partners program. GT camp was going to be better than ever!
Before the first week of camp, I was asked to help out with the 4th/5th grade group. I was excited about getting to help out (and play with the new robots), but I was nervous about actually TEACHING the class. What was I supposed to do? I teach reading intervention all day, so I couldn’t wrap my head around teaching a STEAM lesson. Ms. Torres, our amazing kindergarten teacher and GT camp coordinator, sent me some sample activities and advised me to “play around” with the Sphero in order to prepare for the lesson. The closer it got to 3:15 on the day of camp, the more nervous I became. I’m accustomed to having a strict lesson plan to follow. What if the students get bored with the robots? What if the activity I planned is too easy? What if I forget how to use the robot in front of the kids? I ran all of the worst case scenarios in my head. Once camp began, I showed the students the basics of controlling the Sphero with an iPad then gave them each a turn to test drive the robot. As they were figuring out the controls on the robot and maneuvering through tables, chairs and desks, I had an idea. I ran to my closet and began pulling out a variety of materials: paper, cardboard boxes, unifix cubes, rulers, dominoes, blocks, and jump ropes. I broke up the group into two teams and charged them with creating an obstacle course for their Sphero. I let them take their pick of materials (and in some cases their containers) to create a challenging obstacle course for the other team to drive their Sphero through. I was surprised to see how focused both groups were throughout the task. There was no whining, no complaining, and no chaos. The designs were also pretty interesting.
I was able to use this “plan” with two different groups and was surprised how each group approached the task. For my last session, I had the students create a Sphero vehicle and we had a Battle Bots-style competition. This idea wasn’t too well thought out and the Spheros weren’t very mobile, but the students in my group had fun anyway. They even added obstacles to keep their opponent from getting too close. It wasn’t the most sophisticated lesson, but it sure was fun.
My biggest take-away from this experience is that sometimes it’s okay to not have a plan. I was truly impressed at the way each group completed the task in a unique way. I’m still going to be a compulsive and organized planner, but now I know that sometimes it’s okay to just let our students build, create, and be innovative. It also doesn’t hurt to have a cool robot to play with.