Putting the “A” into STEAM

Hampshire Regional students learn to code with robotsAs an art teacher of 33+ years, integrating technology tools into my curriculum is a new and unexplored endeavor. Sure, I have used laptops to look inside art museums and research artists’ work and biographies, used projectors to display images and demonstrate techniques, used social media platforms and blogs to share students’ achievements with a wide audience of parents and community members, but never have I employed technology as a tool for creating artworks. Budget, time, and space constraints, in addition to mandated curriculum content, dictate the art experiences I can offer my students. A MassCUE Classroom Grant to purchase Spheros and iPads for use as art-making tools presented a new, exciting and untested teaching practice.

When I began thinking about how I would teach my students to code Spheros to create a painting, the traditional practice of doing it first myself, then taking the students through the steps proved impossible. I had no knowledge of how much my students already knew about coding and what kinds of experience they had with technology in general. Also, it was hard for me to learn to use the Sphero! As a veteran teacher (read:old enough to remember a wall-mounted rotary phone), I was on the low end of the learning curve!

Student led instruction at Hampshire Regional school

Student-Led Instruction

I surveyed my fifth grade students to find an experienced Sphero operator and promoted him to Co-Pilot. Cade’s classmates were very receptive to him as a teacher. None of them had operated a Sphero prior to this opportunity but many of the students were able to quickly master the steps necessary to get it moving, albeit a bit wildly. After observing him teach his classmates, which came naturally to him, I also felt comfortable to open the app and begin coding. Having a student-led lesson prompted other students to offer to help me with beginner classes. Once the basics of operating the Spheros were covered, students quickly formed groups and launched the app. I observed them helping each other and taking turns without difficulty. 

Student Engagement and Cooperative Learning

The very enticing and relevant device resulted in a high level of engagement and cooperative behavior in my students. Students who had never coded a Sphero were now able to program basic shapes and add colors and sounds. We will continue to work with the robots to produce more elaborate imagery in the future. The results of our experiences are featured on the school’s Facebook page and will be shared with colleagues via the Regional email system. As we become more adept in coding the Spheros to draw a variety of lines and shapes, we will demonstrate our capabilities for younger classes to inspire them.  We are already displaying our art works along with photos of the students for the community to enjoy. I feel that the relevancy of learning to code and the appeal of the robotic device will help to ensure future funding to continue what we have started. We have so much more to explore with the Spheros; I know that we have only scratched the surface.

I am very glad to have taken the time from my regular teaching duties to write this grant and very thrilled to be the recipient. I am excited and energized, as are my students, by the possibilities of using robots in my classroom. I will certainly not hesitate to put future students in the role of teacher as we continue with integrating technology in the classroom.

Leslie di Curcio Marra is an Art Teacher in the Hampshire Regional School District. 

– Leslie di Curcio Marra ( ldicurcio@hr-k12.org )


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