Robots in years past evoked images of big boxy tin cans waving arms around and crying “Danger Will Robinson” or menacing monsters on late night episodes of the Twilight Zone.
These days, robots perform all kinds of functions from handling packages in Amazon warehouses to complex eye surgeries to bartending on Royal Caribbean cruise ships.
New technologies including robotics, are becoming more prevalent in local school districts, as well, teaching students collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking and other STEM skills to be successful in the 21st century.
These enhanced programs are not always funded by the districts themselves. That’s where DFCU plugs in. Each year, the credit union donates thousands of dollars to local education foundations and school districts to support creative learning as part of teacher-requested grants.
As students head back to school, let’s examine some DFCU-sponsored programs that integrate technology and robotics into learning:
Ozobots (Livonia Education Foundation):
Meet the Ozobot, tiny R2-D2-looking robots that teach coding to k-4th graders. Kennedy Elementary Media Specialist Alicia Bashawaty found this program at a recent conference and with money provided by a grant from DFCU Financial, purchased these blinky, rolling dynamos for her classrooms.
“I’m a big fan of coding to help teach the fundamentals,” says Bashawaty. “Ozobots take these principles and bring them into their hands with these tiny robots..”
Everything these Ozobots do has to be programmed. From a special Ozoblockly website, the code is scanned onto the Ozobot and then performs tricks on a paper code sheet shared by a group of students at each table.
“Children learn how to channel their ideas into reality, creating private games, secret codes and their very own robotic equations, putting them at the forefront of learning without even realizing it,” says Bashawaty.
Third grade student MacKenzie B. likes creating codes to make her Ozobot dance and spin. “I just love coding,” she says. I’m going to take a computer class on the weekends to learn more about it.”
Wimage (Grand Rapids School District)
Its name means "words to images" and the Wimage app allows young learners to simply say or type what they are thinking and then watch as their words are turned into pictures on a tablet.
App co-creators Nic Jansma and veteran Michael Hyacinthe got the idea from Fashion Has Heart program, the initiative that pairs wounded military members with artists during Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize.
Now they’ve taken their program to the classrooms in Grand Rapids and DFCU Financial will sponsor a session at a local school this fall.
The Wimage app takes words and instantly turns them into visual images. The program, with the addition of puppetry and singing, teaches children to use the app to create their very own storybooks that they take home after class.
Says Hyancinthe, “Wimage helps build self-confidence, vocabulary and creativity. We are so pleased that DFCU will help us bring this program to classrooms in Grand Rapids.”
Taylor Robotics Team (Taylor Foundation for Educational Excellence)
When it comes to creating robots of the future, fostering team work and giving back to the community, Taylor Public School District’s TNT 280 Robotics Team is D-Y-N-O-M-I-T-E! “This is about more than just building robots,” says Coordinator Joe Horth, “it’s about inspiring and motivating good humans for the future.”
In addition to building robots for competition, the students from four Taylor high schools also must develop business and engineering plans, write presentations and meet with the panel of judges. “This project is really designed as a small corporation,” says Horth. “These kids are the best of the best and sometimes this experience helps them learn that about themselves.”
Since opening the Taylor branch, DFCU has earmarked dollars to the Taylor Foundation for Educational Excellence for this competitive program.
“We are honored to partner with this organization that benefits student learning in creative and productive ways,” said DFCU Taylor Branch Manager and Education Foundation Treasurer Mathew Sczcepaniak. “Everyone learns differently and has something unique to offer. It will be exciting to watch what these future leaders become.”