With 1,100 students in grades 6-8, Parkland Magnet Middle School for Aerospace Technology offers some classes that no other schools in its county can provide. A whole-school magnet program, the school has developed a coding and robotics offering that incorporates the CoderZ gamified online learning platform, the Amazon Robotics Challenge and Lego Education Spike PRIME.
Alyna Raynovich, Science Magnet Content Specialist at Parkland Magnet, stepped up her use of CoderZ, in 2020-21 school year so her students could have a way to use the program at home. “I didn’t have to worry about any of them not having access to robotics, which was great,” said Raynovich.
Now that students are back to in-classroom learning, she uses CoderZ in conjunction with the physical robots. The STEM learning platform proves especially valuable when students get frustrated over their non-working robots.
“Robots aren’t perfect. If one motor spins faster than the next, students can get frustrated with it pretty quickly,” said Raynovich. “That’s when I break out CoderZ and say, ‘Okay, we actually can have a simulation where there is a perfect environment and we know that if something goes wrong, it’s our code; it’s not the robot.”
This helps students understand how, in the real world, there may be other obstacles to address. By using CoderZ, they get the nuance of the computer code and can more readily figure out what’s wrong, make the adjustments and be pleased with the final result.
Teachers also use CoderZ in the Introduction to Robotics elective, where they provide a brief
overview of robotics and use a lot of real-life examples (e.g., the Atlas, Milo and Hercules robots).
The instructor has also incorporated the Amazon Robotics Challenge in the curriculum, where
students understand the connections between the Hercules robot they learned about and the
one being used in the online simulation.
For Parkland Magnet MS’ teachers, CoderZ offers up real-world applications that help students
actually see how what they’re learning is applicable in the real world—even though it’s only in a
“It’s based on a real-life actual robot that exists in Amazon warehouses,” said Raynovich. “That helps kids have that real-world connection to what they’re learning.” This also gives students valuable career training in a world where many jobs of the future don’t even exist yet, and where technology is playing a larger part in everyone’s lives.
“Students will not only know the basics of coding and how it works, but also the critical thinking aspects of it,” said Raynovich, who uses CoderZ in a project-based way to get students thinking critically about how they’re going to solve problems. And even when coding knowledge isn’t specifically required to solve a particular problem, the acquired critical thinking skills will still be useful.
In some cases, Raynovich uses CoderZ right at the beginning of a lesson and before she gets the
physical robots out.
“I’ll use it as an introduction to practice their coding a little bit more,” she said. In other cases, she uses the platform in the middle of a class. For example, she’ll give students the option of choosing between using the real-life robot to complete a challenge or continuing to work through CoderZ.
“CoderZ is also a great tool that I can use to provide student choice, which helps them be even more invested,” she explained. “If they choose to use CoderZ, that’s great. If they choose to use the real robot, that’s also fine. Either way, it gives me the opportunity to provide them with that choice.”
When using the robotics platform, Raynovich really likes using the heatmaps to see how far her
students have progressed on each of their missions. She also uses the platform to monitor
mastery of key topics, based on the number of missions that students have completed.
“Even if it took them 27 tries to complete the mission, that shows that someone has the grit to stick with it,” she said. “That gives me good insight into how much they grasp in being an efficient coder and also how they’re using those coding and critical thinking skills.”
A provider of STEM-robotics equipment and training for young women and teachers in underserved communities around the globe, the Community Bots is the brainchild of Jack Cooley, a science teacher with a 25-year success record across grades 3-12.
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