“Mama, look at how I make the robot move!”
“Papa, let me show you how to make the robot turn.”
First- and second-graders were the computer science experts at University of Southern California when 35 families gathered to face two dozen robotics challenges. Over 225 children have been learning all year to code and program robots in the classrooms of nine Boyle Heights teachers involved in USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering program called BOTS, for Building Opportunities with Teachers in Schools. And for four Saturdays in March, the families of 27 of those BOTS students have also learned how to code and use the engineering design process thanks to the El Círculo Familiar program, a collaboration between the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, PBS SoCal, the Critical Media Project, Sheridan Street Elementary School and USC Viterbi Adopt-a-Student, Adopt-a-Teacher. Finally, at USC for a culminating event, those parents could see how much their children had learned from their BOTS teachers and also apply their own, new coding skills to program the Sphero robots used in their children’s BOTS classes.
Teachers who have spent the last nine months in the BOTS monthly trainings also led the robotics challenges at USC on March 30. From St. Odilia School came Ms. Maria Garcia (first grade teacher) and Ms. Desiree Luna (second grade); from Sheridan Street Elementary were second-grade teachers Ms. Melissa Torres, Ms. Anita Lopez, and Ms. Tania Gomez; and from Murchison Street Elementary came Ms. Andriana Montijo and Ms. Ann Anderek (both first grade teachers), and Mr. Joseph Umaña (second grade). These teachers have been participating in monthly trainings since August so they themselves could learn coding through Code.org’s Computer Science Fundamentals curriculum and robotics using an original curriculum developed by the robotics students and staff of USC Viterbi Adopt-a-School, Adopt-a-Teacher. Over a dozen USC students and staff members have collaborated at every step of the way to empower teachers and their students in this goal, including Ph.D. student volunteers Justin Clough, Gautum Salhotra, Jackson Killian, and Tricia Chaffey.
The BOTS curriculum is currently being developed for submission to Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) as an official course for teachers in August, 2019. LAUSD Local District East will be the BOTS partner in the coming academic year, under the direction of East Superintendent Frances Baez with the support of STEAM Coordinator Craig Sipes and Technology Dr. David Billett. Families will be able to continue their robotics play over the summer at the East Los Angeles Weingart YMCA. Next year, the BOTS program will also be supported by numerous additional partners, including Mr. LeRoy Nelson, the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation, the Los Angeles Region Chamber of Commerce, and more.
While the future of robotics in Boyle Heights is set in the BOTS schools, the purpose of El Círculo Familiar is to make sure that computer science becomes more than a subject in school, but is a skill that can be shared by a whole family. Robotics and computational thinking already shape our society in so many ways, and the families of Boyle Heights are a key part of the ecosystem supporting this digital literacy.