Q&A: How We Incorporate Coding and Robotics Into Curriculum
We spoke with Matthew Lyons, Teacher/Tech Coach at Fort Bend ISD about using coding and robotics in his curriculum.
Tell us about your district, Fort Bend ISD, and the role you play in it.
Matthew Lyons: Fort Bend ISD is one of the largest districts in the state, with 76,000 students and over 11,000 staff members in 80 schools. We are one of the most diverse districts in the nation as well. It is quite a challenge to meet all of our students where they are and prepare them for the future. I am a technology integration specialist for social studies at the district level, along with 3 other specialists, one for each core content area. We work together to develop curriculum, train teachers, support blended learning across the district, and implement our coding and robotics programs.
It’s amazing that all of your K-6 teachers receive robotics and coding training. How has this been received by stakeholders in student learning—the parents, teachers, and admins at your district?
ML: I think they’re excited about the possibilities. Kindergarten students work with Code-a-pillars, second and third graders use the Bee Bots, and fourth-sixth graders use the Dash robots and coding software. We also have Scratch Jr and Scratch opportunities built in across grade levels. We encourage students with coding and robotics competitions during the year in elementary and middle school, so teachers who are enthusiastic about working with students in those areas can help them shine among their peers. We also work coding and robotics lessons into our curriculum in every grading period in all core content areas.
Could you share an example of how students at your district use technology—coding and robotics—to demonstrate what they’ve learned.
ML: One of my lessons for second grade worked coding in with the County Fair in September, just in time for the actual fair. I included a 3x5 map teachers can assemble showing the layout of the County Fair. Students use the Bee Bot to code how to get from one area of the fair to another. I think kids got excited after completing this lesson because they would know the layout of the fair and can show their parents around. I try to look for ways to combine real-world experiences that will motivate kids.
So you’re writing lessons for K through 6th grade. What kind of lessons are you writing for kindergarteners versus 6th graders?
ML: With kindergarten, you have to look at the fundamentals behind breaking a task down into steps and getting them to put those steps in order. That’s where the Code-a-pillar can be helpful. The steps are actual parts of the caterpillar they put together and push the button to make it follow those steps. You can contrast that with what the 6th graders are doing with the Dash robot and coding software. They are looking to code a path for the robot that uses angles, distances, and finding the fastest way to complete a task. I try to incorporate some racing relay games into the lessons for them so they can think on their feet and adjust programs accordingly while demonstrating mastery of the content. With the Scratch coding, they can even create animations and games, presentations, and animations to demonstrate what they’ve learned.
Coding and robotics are clearly two valuable topics. What would you say to a school administrator who was hesitant to to incorporate these topics into their curriculum?
ML: It’s a great way to motivate kids who need a more hands-on, concrete experience in school. It’s also teaching logical thinking skills that benefit them in math, science, and even writing. If you think about it, even language arts classes use “formulas” to construct sentences and paragraphs. It can help kids in all areas of their education.
How have students reacted to using coding and robotics in the classroom?
ML: We’ve seen high interest among students all across the district. We host a Scratch Day for students every December to both show off what they learned in their classes and learn more about other aspects of coding. We’ve maxed out the number of kids we can have for that event for the past several years. At our Verizon campus, we have a Verizon Innovative Lab class for all 6th graders. I’m hearing that they are excited about the experiences they have there working with coding, 3D printing, VR and AR technologies, etc.
Has the use of an LMS been a benefit in this process? If so, please explain how.
ML: Our district uses Schoology to house all of the files for our curriculum. All teachers can access and copy lessons and support materials from the unit folders to their courses. This makes it easy to share all of our lessons with them. Most of our PD is also done through Schoology as well, so teachers can give us feedback on our coding and robotics lessons and we can use that feedback to make better materials for them.
It seems like your district is very innovative. What do you think is next for your district as a whole, as well as for you as an educator when it comes to innovation in edtech?
ML: Blended learning is part of our move toward student ownership of learning over the next decade, so edtech will be a big part of it. Creating interesting opportunities for students to explore learning through technology is always the challenge, but it’s one that I’m excited to be a part of. This job combines my two educational loves—social studies and technology—so I’m glad I have the opportunity to work with teachers to figure out how they want to grow in their understanding of how to use tech with their students. I feel like we can inspire kids with coding and robotics to learn the content in new ways and prepare them to think through anything that life might throw at them in the future.
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