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In Provo City School District, in the classrooms of Centennial Middle School, students aren’t practicing rote, mechanical learning; they’re mastering the mechanics of coding through their own autonomous efforts in David Barnett’s Robotics 1 course. With an emphasis on tailoring learning experiences for every student, Barnett’s class sets a high standard for developing the next generation of tech-savvy trailblazers.

In his classroom, students build and program robots using Scratch-like code, a coding platform for elementary students to develop computational thinking and coding skills. They learn the basics while working towards a tangible product. The course is an introduction to coding basics and robotics, integrated with a term of Coding 1 with Waru Ngatai, a more in-depth coding class. Students alternate between both instructors, spending one term with each, ensuring a well-rounded education in robotics and coding.

The projects start from simplistic, bite-sized bots to behemoth robot beasts requiring multiple desktops to house them. Arms, claws, and belts join the mix to tackle various challenges and move about obstacles.

It’s cool to watch a collected, concerted effort from middle schoolers; teaching this grade can feel like wrangling cats. What Barnett has accomplished seems like a small miracle.

Students work in small groups; the small-group work differentiates for skill levels, allowing some students to help teach peers. Some student groups worked beyond the scope of a given unit and continued onto more robust robots to extend their learning; others mastered coding cornerstones and could spend more time asking their teacher.

All students tested, iterated, tested, iterated, occasionally watching their robots wander in aimless loops, working until their robot delivered an action with perfect precision. Students enjoyed lessons that were one part engineer, one part coder, one part play-tester, all parts engaging for every student. 

Every student– and I do mean every student– had their hands full with their work.

It’s a sight to see. We’re so proud of Barnett and teachers like him who enrich our students through project-oriented, hands-on tasks where they can. 

Thank you.

Spencer Tuinei
  • Communication Specialist
  • Spencer Tuinei