New robotics class brings 21st century tech skills

Students cluster to watch a YouTube video that demonstrates how to program their robotic spheres

Shane Johnson smiled proudly as he watched a baseball-sized sphere spin and flash its colored lights thanks to the programming exercise he had just completed in his robotics class.

Shane Johnson enjoys learning how to program his robotic sphere at Mill Creek Middle School

“It’s just fun,” said Johnson as he and his fellow eighth graders at Mill Creek Middle School completed the exercise under the tutelage of veteran technology instructor Harold Schneider.

Robotics is a new rotation class at the school this year as the district attempts to introduce its students to STEM courses earlier in their education, according to principal Gus Harju. 

“This is an opportunity to bring 21st century technology skills to students that may make a change in their life and may allow them to make a career choice,” says Harju. 

Veteran teacher Harold Schneider is teaching eighth graders how to program robotic spheres

The robotic Spheros and iPads used to program them were donated to the district by the Comstock Park Education Foundation. The students are shown how to program the spheres from their iPads by watching a YouTube video. 

Programs include making spheres roll through an obstacle course and flash a series of lights. After they complete the program, students can verify their work by seeing if the spheres respond correctly. 

For Schneider, the robotics class is an opportunity to teach students the basics of programming through a collaborative, project-based approach. He put together the curriculum this past summer after being asked to teach the class.

Schneider, a teacher for 28 years, said his middle school technology classes help students identify whether they want to pursue a career in technology before they get to high school. “I’m an old industrial education guy,” he says with a smile. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve been the technology guy.”

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James Harger
James Harger reported on West Michigan's economy, courts and politics for The Grand Rapids Press and Mlive.com for more than 37 years. He also is employed as Servanthood Leader at Immanuel Lutheran Church in downtown Grand Rapids. A graduate of Central Michigan University, he also has worked for publications in Holland, Mount Pleasant and Lansing. He is married to Lisa and has one daughter, who lives in Ann Arbor. Read James' full bio or email James.

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