2016: A Year of Meaningful Human Connections
As 2016 ends, most of us find ourselves making resolutions for 2017. During this time of the year when we search for ways to connect with others, we would like to share our experiences with you. This past school year robotics and technology played major roles at the A. Harry Moore school in student engagement for learning. Using Sphero, Ozobots, Beebots,and Lego Wedo students designed, built, and explored ways to bring new meaning to the way in which they learn. Seymour Papert’s theory of social constructivism strongly supports the use of robotics with all students including those with disabilities.
Perhaps in 2017 you can find it in your heart and your mind to embrace the Maker mindset. In 2016, our school embraced the Maker mindset and that, with the combination of robotics and other 21st century skills, led to some meaningful human connections. A. Harry Moore students collaborated with partners in Toms River Regional Schools throughout the 2016 school year. In October of 2016, the A. Harry Moore students performed in a wearable technology fashion show at the Jersey Shore Maker Fest in Toms River. A meaningful human connection was made at this event, one that accelerated learning through innovative interaction between two teenage boys.
One student from A. Harry Moore—Carlos—spent his post-fashion show time at Maker Fest judging a robotics competition. Carlos is a teenage boy who happens to be non-ambulatory. The 1st prize in the robotics competition was awarded to Kyle, an Ocean County teenage boy. After this contest Kyle approached the A. Harry Moore group and offered to donate some of his prize money to Carlos's class so they could buy a new robot. The Maker movement made great human connections on that day.
A few weeks later a check arrived in the mail and Carlos used this money to purchase a Dash Robot. The Dash Robot was used by Carlos and his classmates for many holiday activities: it was a station in the school’s computer science week Coding Carnival and Carlos used Dash the Robot to help build a gingerbread house in a school contest the week before Christmas break. The best gift of this holiday season was the gift of human connection and how a simple meeting between two teenage boys was able to result in transformative learning.
Expanding social circles linked through a shared interest in robotics has brought new meaning to Carlos’ life. He explains his experiences here: “The year 2016 was amazing. Using technology, like my iPad, to do homework, drive robots such as Spheros and Dash has made life easier for me. The accessibility for me to experience meeting new people including the Mayor of Jersey City, Mr. Steven Fulop, has expanded my world. Meeting someone like Kyle, has inspired me to make robots! I hope to learn how to make robots that other people can play with in the new year.”
Continuing the motivation to explore, that comes so easily during the holiday season with gifts galore, including robotics, we often wonder how we will keep the momentum going in 2017. Here are a few suggestions that might spark the use of robotics to form human connections for others, either at home or school:
- Start a social circle where students can explore by building meaning in ways that are significant to their circle. This is a great way to insure their use. Imagine, designing missions for BB8 and carrying them out using the new Force Ban.
- Come up with ways to solve social issues through 3D printing.
- Become fashion designers producing wearable technology.
The Maker mindset provides a belief that any of these activities are possible and even better when shared with others.
The days when robotics were considered “nifty” tools used strictly for STEM-related activities are long gone. Watching as students work cooperatively to produce reproductions of literary classics with the robots has shown that there are no limits to how far their use can go when students have a hand in designing their own learning. Connections that are close or far in physical distance, like those between A. Harry Moore and Toms River through the NJDOE Department of Innovation, offer a framework for others to follow. Robotics can be a bridge to help form your connections.
Make it your New Year’s resolution to extend and expand the learning of your students beyond the four walls of your classroom. Have your students collaborate with others who speak a different language or live in a different zip code. Encourage play in your classroom and mix it with purpose and passion. We feel so fortunate to have experienced the generosity encouraged by the Maker mindset in 2016, and are thankful that we have this chance to share our story with you.
Carlos B. is a middle school student at the A. Harry Moore. He has been featured in the Wall St. Journal and many other publications for his use of educational technology to amplify his own voice as a student.
Courtney Pepe is the proud Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction at A. Harry Moore of New Jersey City University where they do groundbreaking things with robotics, curriculum, and the maker mindset.
Wendy is a demonstration teacher at the A. Harry Moore School with over 25 years of experience working with students with disabilities. Ms. Thompson is Carlos’s former primary school teacher.