By Susan Riddell
When Dyllan Smith was asked if the robotics class at Bullitt Lick Middle School (Bullitt County) was his favorite class at the school, he pointed to KATE and said, “Have you ever seen anything like that?”
KATE – named as an acronym for Kentucky’s Automated Technology Educator – is a robot the school has borrowed from Murray State University. KATE can sing, dance, discuss movies and most importantly help students learn about robotics and programming.
“KATE has been a great way to give the kids a real-world robotics experience,” said teacher Shaun McIntosh. “In the time we’ve had KATE, their knowledge of robotics had grown so much.”
Principal Robert Fulk said KATE has been a great experience for students at his school.
“I am happy to see any of our students engaged in authentic, meaningful learning,” he said. “At Bullitt Lick Middle, we provide as much individualized instruction as possible for our students. We are happy to be able to have KATE available to kids who want to do some real world, hands-on work that is meaningful and also very fun. KATE is a great example for the kids involved, and any in our building, how learning can be and should be fun.”
“For the students who are involved in this, it will teach them problem solving, critical thinking and planning skills that will translate not only into their day-to- day work, but better prepare them for (college or career opportunities).”
Melinda Curless, the STEM Initiatives Consultant for the Kentucky Department of Education, said what’s interesting about this robotic experience is that it develops those 21st century skills like critical thinking and problem solving, but it blends in creativity and communication practices, too.
“These experiences align to Kentucky Core Academic Standards (KCAS) for English and language arts in the speaking and listening dimension,” Curless said. “These standards can tend to be overlooked or not explicitly taught.”
Curless also said when elements of the robot design process, such as considering criteria and constraints to meet a specific outcome are involved, effectively student learning takes place.
“This would very much align to the Next-Generation Science Standards,” Curless said. “So the point is, while the experiences with KATE are very engaging and promote career awareness for the students, they also meaningfully teach some KCAS and 21st-century skills.”
Bullitt Lick Middle students have been using KATE for nine weeks. During that time, they have learned to use software to program the robot to do the Harlem Shake, dance to “Thriller” or “Kung Fu Fighting” or recite the movie trailers for the “Ender’s Game” and “Hunger Games” movies and more.
Students work in small groups, each programming KATE with a different task based off a storyboard they created. The tasks are built through the use of voice and touch activated commands.
With several steps in the process, students must show McIntosh that they can follow directions, work well in teams and master the robotics concepts prior to advancing in the lesson.
Students also must learn the trial-and-error process often used in that robotics and technology.
“There are times when the kids will set up movements and actions within the programming, and one mistake along the way will prevent KATE from doing what they want her to do,” McIntosh said. “It’s up to them to stick with it, figure out what’s not working and make it right.
“I love to see them learn this way,” he added, “because it stays with them.”
Before their time with KATE is up, students also will present her to local elementary school students. They’ve prepared a lesson about the water cycle.
“I hope my students use this opportunity to realize what careers are out there for them that involve robotics,” McIntosh said. “Robotics is a big part of the medical profession and the military, too. There are so many of them.”
McIntosh also said that once KATE moves on to the next school, his work isn’t finished. He will help develop the curriculum that will follow KATE to other schools.
“I feel like robotics is something that’s going to be big in education for a long time to come,” he said.
Shaun McIntosh, firstname.lastname@example.org, (502) 543-6806