In a classroom at Oliver Elementary School, local youngsters are showing robots how to live.
It’s a pretty simple life for each robot, navigating a random path in the form of a programmable sphere. They’re called Spheros and manoeuvre just like BB-8 from the new Star Wars movies.
But the short distance travelled by each bionic ball requires students to demonstrate a precise degree of math. And the Grade 4s – who program the Spheros through a tablet computer – have only begun to learn about many of the concepts, like angles, fractions and decimals.
“Students are learning how to work with less than one second,” said Principal Jason McAllister, who’s one of the coding course instructors.
In addition to the technical skills required, McAllister said there’s a strong focus on problem solving and teamwork.
“We’re not just plugging kids in so they can work on computers,” he said. “Cooperation, collaboration and communication are huge parts, which is why we have them all partnered up.”
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Groups all progress at their own pace. After each pair or trio successfully navigates their course to the end, McAllister intensifies the challenge by extending the track in a random direction.
“They figure out the route by inputting the time, speed and angle to trace where they want to go,” said McAllister. “They’re all pretty engaged, get pretty excited when they make it to the end.”
Misbehaviour has never been an issue when the coding course is in session.
“There’s never a kid who says ‘I don’t want to do this.’ It’s full engagement.”
Oliver students were introduced to Spheros in March of this year. Coding is a skill for the 21st Century, McAllister said, as the emerging industries of automation and artificial intelligence are looking quite promising.
“We know not every kid is going to go into the field, but computer programming is a huge area of shortage in Canada.”
When asked how far the field of coding might go, McAllister said “It’s kind of endless. Just takes the right person to come up with the next big thing.”
He feels optimistic about the career options coding will lead to. Using self-driving cars as an example, he said more coding advancements are necessary in order for vehicles to become fully autonomous.
“People are going to be needed to program those technologies and then improve how they’re done.”
The school also acquired a similar learning tool called Lego WeDo 2.0, which will introduce a simpler version of coding to students as early as Grade 1.