School District 8 superintendent Christine Perkins reacts with joy after putting together a robotics puzzle at a board meeting this week. For more on how SD8 is introducing technology into classrooms, see Page 3. Photo: Tyler Harper

School district brings robotics into the classroom

Students and teachers are being introduced to new tech

Once she figured out how to connect the cubes together, Christine Perkins’ eyes lit up brighter than the DIY flashlight she’d just made.

If that was the reaction School District 8’s superintendent had to new technology being introduced into classrooms, it’s easy to imagine how students take to it.

“At the beginning they get the little power blocks and they’re like, ‘There’s a switch on it! There’s a switch on it!’ And then they turn it on and ‘there’s a green light!’” said Brent Firkser, who along with Vanessa Finnie is working to give students and teachers their first taste of robotics and coding.

Firkser and Finnie showed off Cubelets — building blocks that sense movement and distance to encourage critical thinking and collaboration — at the district’s board meeting Tuesday.

The pair were hired in November to work for SD8’s Innovative Learning Services (ILS). The latest provincial curriculum, which began rolling out in September 2016, includes a section titled Applied Design, Skills and Technology meant to introduce students to technology-based learning.

Firkser and Finnie are currently taking the Cubelets to Grade 5 and 6 classes around the district, although they’ve also already worked with younger students as well. Once they are in the classroom, the pair like to let students figure out how to work the blocks on their own.

“We let them discover. I think it’s a really important part of the process,” said Finnie.

Naomi Ross left her role as principal of Wildflower School just this week to join Innovative Learning as its district vice principal. She wasn’t surprised by the reaction of the board to the Cubelets, which were invented at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University and have been sold commercially since 2012.

“Even as adults, you see this and you just want to play,” said Ross. “So any teacher, it’s a matter of once the kids get a hold of this they are hooked. This is like the 21st century Lego for students.”

Lorri Fehr, the director of ILS, determines which tech should be adopted by the district before it is rolled out by Firkser and Finnie. Ross said the district has also consulted with Nelson Tech Club founder Brad Pommen to find out what works best with kids.

Part of Firkser and Finnie’s job is also to introduce teachers and staff to new tech that can be taken back to classrooms. Ross said the hope is that eventually each school will have enough training and equipment to make robotics and coding as important to classrooms as blackboards.

“It’s an exciting time to be in education,” she said. “It’s an exciting time for teachers and it’s a really exciting time for kids.”

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Vanessa Finnie, who works with Brent Firkser to introduce robotics and coding into SD8 schools, shows trustee Bill Maslechko how to use technology being used in local classrooms. Photo: Tyler Harper

“The Cubelets work really well as an introduction to robotics and computational thinking,” says Brent Firkser. Photo: Tyler Harper

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