On the move with rolling robots

Third-graders utilize Ozobots to learn about coding

Carmen Alexa, left, and Lily Dalstra celebrate their success with their Ozobot

Kennen Claus’ favorite part about Ozobot robots is the “party time” programming available for students after they complete a weekly challenge.

“After we cross the finish line, we can make them talk, play music and spin around in crazy, crazy circles,” Kennen said. “One time we swirled it right off the table.”

The programming experience comes courtesy of the Grandville Education Foundation, which granted Mary VanderMeer $1,199 to purchase 12 Ozobots for her Grand View Elementary third-grade class. Ozobot robots are little toy robots controlled by a computer application that blend the physical and digital worlds, all while teaches kids programming.

Jackson Rogers, left, and Braden Caristie try to problem-solve an issue with their Ozobot

“This is such a valuable experience for my students,” VanderMeer said. “To have a chance to work with a specified skill like coding this early on is really going to help them as they move on.”

Each week, students are presented with a challenge outlined on a sheet of paper, complete with obstacles and goals for which they use a computer program to create a path for their Ozobots. With each challenge, students practice a certain set of coding skills.

The goal near the end of the year will be to complete more difficult obstacles with the robots, like miniature bowling, VanderMeer said.

“We learn more and more each time we get the robots out,” she said. “We’re having fun but learning these valuable skills.”

Savanna Cordell, left, and Kennen Claus look pleased with themselves after a successful coding session

Overcoming Challenges

Lily Dalstra’s biggest difficulty with coding is making sure her robot stays within the lines.

“Sometimes you go too many steps too far or one less, and then you have to try again,” Lily said. “It will do things you don’t want it to do and then you have to see why it is doing that.”

Lily said that having her classroom partner, Carmen Alexa, there to help is one of the best parts of the program.

“I think of something and sometimes she thinks of something and then we can put them together,” Lily said. “It’s really fun, even though we’re noisy.”

Carmen agreed that working together is helpful. “It can be kind of hard so it helps to have someone else to work with,” she said.

Kennen Claus and Braden Caristie compare programming methods

A Larger Lesson

As far as curriculum goes, the Ozobots touch on several areas of emphasis in the classroom, VanderMeer said.

“It’s giving students a background in coding, math and problem-solving, but it’s also teaching about perseverance because this isn’t easy work,” she said.

Because there are 12 bots and 27 students in her class, partnering up has created additional benefits.

“They’re working as teams and seeing that every person has different strengths, and what works and doesn’t work,” VanderMeer said. “Sometimes you’re going to come across a problem that you don’t know how to fix and that’s a challenge as well.”

After each session, the students come together to showcase their coding decisions and talk about their challenges and successes.

“We always cheer for each other when we have a good run and laugh about our mistakes,” VanderMeer said. “It’s great to see.”

VanderMeer hopes that this coding experience will inspire students to participate in the Grandville Lego League, a creative problem-solving team, in the future or go into a coding related career.

“Coding is considered another language, so we’re getting an early start on a lot of things,” VanderMeer said. “I hope to see this program grow and include other classes in years to come.”

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Hannah Lentz
A 2017 graduate of Grand Valley State University and a lifelong teacher’s kid, Hannah Lentz has worked as a journalist in and outside the Grand Rapids area for more than five years. After serving as editor-in-chief at the GVSU student newspaper, Hannah interned at the Leelanau Enterprise where she learned a lot about community journalism. In addition to her work for School News Network, Hannah has worked as a freelance blogger in the furniture industry, focusing on design trends, and as a social media manager for World Medical Relief in Detroit. Read Hannah's full bio or email Hannah.

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