In St. Vrain, robotics integration starts in preschool

Twenty-first century education is constantly evolving. With new technologies being developed daily, it’s more important than ever that students learn to be innovators as well as learners. Kristen Brohm, the STEM Coordinator for Alpine Elementary school says, “As we move forward in education, looking for innovators, problem solvers and critical thinkers, we are changing what we need to teach students.”

In many schools, these changes are beginning in the preschool classrooms through robotics and coding programs. Robotics programs at Alpine Elementary, Indian Peaks Elementary, and Spark! Discovery Preschool are eye opening experiences for preschoolers. As STEM focused schools, there is an emphasis on incorporating science, technology, engineering and mathematics principles at all grade levels. Alyssa Rehder, an early childhood educator at Spark!, said that utilizing robotics in the classroom, “supports students in trying new things and risk taking. It also teaches them to be hands on learners... Just by instilling these traits in our students it may help them in the future across all subjects.”

All three schools incorporate similar technology including Bee-bots and Cubelets to help students learn the basics of coding and programming. Bee-bots are small bee robots that can be programmed to follow a certain path. Cubelets are a set of interlocking robots that can be snapped together in different combinations, and then programmed to perform a certain task. Both robots provide ample opportunities for creative thinking and risk taking. Sarah Bloms, the STEM Coordinator at Indian Peaks Elementary School, explains that the students love engaging with the technology in this manner. “​Engagement is through the roof! Students are excited about skill-based concepts and the duration of time they spend with them is longer than students spend with integrated technology.”

Students at Indian Peaks also benefit from taking iPads home each week. This hands on experience helps students strengthen the skills they are learning in the classroom, and prepares students for Kindergarten.

The caliber of these programs are impacting learning at the K-5 level and beyond. Bloms says even the high schools are shifting curriculum to match the new skills these students bring to the table. Brohm also mentions how these programs are impacting the future of student learning, “This allows students to have a strong grasp of how to learn in a more complex way. It encourages the development of a growth mindset for our students, which will stay with them throughout their education.” Students are not just learning skills, they’re learning how to learn.

The students are not the only ones diving headlong into the new materials. Educators are also taking this opportunity to explore new technologies and learn alongside their students. “The biggest thing that I have learned is that I just need to jump in and explore,” said Willis, “The more time I give myself to explore, the more comfortable I become, which allows me to present it to my students in a way that they will be excited to learn more.” Brohm explained that the process has been “scary and overwhelming” but also “a tremendous amount of fun” for the educators at Alpine Elementary. Bloms said that it’s been inspiring to see how students rise to the challenges that technology brings forward. “When teachers and students see students as young as three accomplishing rigorous tasks, they realize they are up for the challenge as well!” Educators throughout St.Vrain Valley Schools have risen to the challenge of incorporating innovative technology in the classroom. Utilizing robotics at the preschool level is one of the ways educators are setting the foundation for a generation of innovation in the classroom.