April 9, 2014

Rock Hill preschool emphasizes STEM with robotics activities

Preschool students at the Goddard School in Rock Hill are spending the week learning about robotics as part of National Robotics Week.

LEGOs in a preschool classroom is nothing new. But LEGOs with motors attached that spin an umbrella built following plans on an iPad?

Well, that’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education in today’s preschool classroom – and that’s what’s going on this week at The Goddard School in Rock Hill.

This is National Robotics Week, so lessons have been tailored around robotics and computer science, said co-owner Amy Strickland. And the kids love it, she said.

“They’re very receptive to it because it’s still fun,” Strickland said.

Teachers started by introducing their students to the very basics: that a robot is a machine that helps people do things. Then they asked the students to try to find robots in their everyday lives.

When asked what robots she knew about, Liza, a junior kindergarten student, said “vacuum cleaners and printers.”

Robots are fun, she said, “because if you don’t want to do stuff, you can control them and they can do it.”

On Wednesday, Liza’s class had a visitor from Bricks 4 Kidz, an organization that provides LEGO programming to different groups. Gene DiMagno and his boxes and boxes of LEGOs helped students build robot airplanes, complete with little motors, by following plans on an iPad.

“Woah, so cool, it’s moving,” said Liza’s classmate Jake, as he plugged in the little motor for the first time and saw the propeller spin.

Robot airplanes are fun to build, Liza said, “because if you can control it, then when it’s finished, you can get a motor and make it go.”

All of these activities do much more than give kids a new way to play with LEGOs, Strickland said.

By focusing on robotics and computer science at this young age, she said, the children are learning to be comfortable with technology and not to fear “hard sciences,” which can seem daunting to older students.

“We push them a little bit cognitively with this type of education,” Strickland said. “The students are ready to take it on.

“Kids are naturally curious, naturally creative and they’re great communicators.”

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