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Milton-Freewater Schools Buy Robots for Coding Lessons

A Washington school district will use grant money from Eastern Oregon University's Greater Oregon STEM Hub to buy robots to develop coding skills in young students and augment the teaching of other subjects.

STEM graphic with objects on table
(TNS) — Gib Olinger and Ferndale elementary schools in Milton-Freewater were recently awarded a combined $15,000 in GO STEM grants to purchase new technology.

The grant comes from Eastern Oregon University's Greater Oregon STEM Hub, which aims to give students in eastern Oregon access to computer science education tools. Maia Fastabend, principal at Gib Olinger, said Gib Olinger was awarded just over $10,000 and Ferndale was awarded almost $5,000.

Fastabend said Milton-Freewater schools do not currently teach coding and programming so this will be the first coding experience for many students.

"I've got some kids that are well-versed in it already because of how accessible it is through the Internet, so I'm sure we've got a couple of experts within the building even though we're not directly teaching it," Fastabend said. "But it helps eliminate that gap in equity and achievement for all kids."

School staff members went last week to test out some of the technology — mostly robots — that schools could use the grant funding for. The schools expect to have the equipment ready for students to use by the start of the next school year.

Some of the technology that will be provided at Gib Olinger includes Finch robots, Dash and Dot robots and B-Bot robots.

Jacqueline Monyak, a kindergarten teacher at Gib Olinger, said each of the robots were meant for different skill levels so students could continue learning and using the robots as they move up in grade level.

"All of the products we got will really help them develop those skills from the very foundation all the way to the more advanced products," Monyak said.

She said the robots could also be used in any class on any subject, including reading, math and science.

"If it's reading, we might use it to re-tell a story or create a story with the robot being part of the story," Monyak said. "If it's math, that's really easy. In kindergarten, we focus on counting, so we could use it to count how many clicks it goes."

However, the schools likely will not have enough robots for all students to have their own device. Monyak said students may have free time during lunch or play time to work with the robots.

"They're getting the science and math by using the device and whatever the activity is, but then they'll also have to do the social-emotional skills of learning how to share it and take turns," Monyak said. "There's a lot of room with the products that we got to be creative in the classroom and use it to teach multi-skill levels."

©2023 Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (Walla Walla, Wash.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.