Inviting ‘Intel inside’ class

The ‘open’ classroom is often discussed as synonymous with online access. But I like to think of my class as being open in another way –bringing in professionals from the outside world.

Intel's Don WildeI’m particularly lucky, with two mentors who come in on a weekly basis to assist me in robotics: Don Wilde from Intel, and Bill Johnson from Scottsdale Community college. We have an open door policy, literally, in our school for getting experts like them.

I have been following Intel’s push to put science high on the agenda, especially for K-12 education. From former Intel Chairman Craig Barrett’s investment in talent and capital with the Basis charter schools, to its involvement in S-T-E-M-related work.

To get back to Don. Last evening, as this picture shows, he talked to them about programming, specifically the principle of  DRY — ‘Don’t Repeat Yourself‘! He showed them how to use the My Block to create loops and variables. Serious stuff. Some would think this is way above the heads of a 4th or 5th grader. To which I counter, it’s about time we stopped dumbing down our content in our curricula –a la Basis. (I happen to tutor two children from Basis, so I know a thing or two about their tough grading standards and how they challenge students.)

To wrap up the class, I asked my students to surprise Don with a project I had thrown at them. I divvied them up into two three teams and got them to build three complex bots: A Voice-controlled robot, a mini Rover, and a Spider.  I left him to judge the best presentation on how they problem solved the build-out and programming.

If science education is lacking one thing, it is making it relevant to real world problem solving. More on this  and the 3 bots in another post.


3 thoughts on “Inviting ‘Intel inside’ class

  1. Aww…gee It’s my pleasure, Angelo. Next time I visit we’ll start breaking down what I presented into smaller chunks that each child can try on their own computer. And then… then we’ll have them present what they just built. You’re absolutely right that being able to talk about what and why they do something is just as important as having the knowledge and skills.

  2. As requested, here are some of the further thoughts I shared:

    This session was an overview of some of the higher-level topics in robotics programming, bringing classical computer science into the Mindstorms NXT language. I did most of the talking, and, as Angelo says, I introduced a lot of new concepts.

    Over my next several visits, we’re going to shift gears. SRES is fortunate to have a computer lab with 20+ PCs, each of which has the Mindstorms development environment installed. I’m going to walk the kids through building the demonstration program one piece at a time, and after they each build it, they’re going to come up with a statement of why, what and how they did what they did. Most of the kids are very shy and it’s hard for them to stand up and speak. Angelo’s right to give them as many chances to practice as he can, and I wholeheartedly support that.

    It will take another three to four sessions, but by the end of them, all the children will understand the concepts I covered on Friday and will be able to use them effectively and explain them proudly. It’s important to me to give this understanding to all of the kids, not just those who already like programming, because IMHO understanding how computers do their job is fundamental to all the human jobs and careers of the future.

    The Spring is the time to dive into these kinds of things because everybody’s caught up for the entire Fall semester in the mad dash to solve the missions and create a project for the FLL competition in December. This Fall, the SRES teams are going to be much better prepared when they get to the tournaments!

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