Kids play with robots

Grade 4 students are getting a hands-on experience with coding this holiday season, by programming robots.

Marcus Nickles

Grade 4 students are getting a hands-on experience with coding this holiday season, by programming robots.

The GearBots Makerspace workshop was held on Dec. 21 and allowed students in North Okanagan-Shuswap School District #83 to program Lego robots to do simple tasks, like moving forwards, backwards and spinning to a certain degree.

At the District 83 board office, the converted-board room was crammed with children, robots and computers as they programmed functions using a block-style coding format.

Once programmed, the robots were tested on tables to ensure they would follow the code.

Ten-year-old Marcus Nickles was working on moving his bot in a simple forward, backward motion before making it spin and moving back to where it started without letting it hit anything.

“It’s hard to do, it’s hard to get them straight on,” he said.

Calinandrea Wright, 10, was another participant of the workshop.

She agreed the robots were “a little tricky” to get them to do exactly what she wanted.

Mother, Theresa Wright signed up her daughters for the workshop because she thought it was a “cool opportunity.”

“(You get to) see how excited they are,” adding her youngest child is interested in construction, so she placed them in the robots workshop and a carpentry class which was held earlier in the week.

Workshop instructor and high school teacher Dereck Dirom said he believes in students getting a hands-on learning experience and thinks “robotics is a really great way to integrate coding in an effective way. I think it’s something that is needed in all of our communities.”

He indicated to where the children were creating programs for their robots.

“This is what your class would look like during the day,” said Dirom, who believes in an interactive classroom, opposed to standard lectures.

“There’s lots of discussion around what 21st Century skills look like, and we know that employers are looking for kids who can collaborate and communicate and can thank critically and analyze what they’re doing… when you bring (a robot) to life through coding, it provides immediate feedback in an environment that engages them.”

The class was at full capacity with 24 students and a wait list, said SD 83 career supervisor Mark Marino.

The program focuses on math, physics, critical thinking and teamwork and uses Lego Mindstorm Education robots specifically designed for the classroom.

“The students were failing, which is awesome. They were learning that not everything works the first time you try it,” said Marino.

“It’s pretty amazing to see their faces when the kids compete the task. It’s a different way of thinking, a lot of it is that learning to fail.”

Earlier this year, the district ran the program at South Broadview Elementary and Hillcrest Elementary.

To find out about workshop opportunities in the district email Marino at























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