Robots and recess: Alabama elementary schools are cracking the code on STEM

Robots and recess: Alabama elementary schools are cracking the code on STEM
Kitty Stone Elementary School in Jacksonville has a robotics program as part of STEM learning supported by a grant by the Alabama Power Foundation. (contributed)

Kitty Stone Elementary School is preparing its students for the future, one robot at a time.

The Jacksonville school provides a unique learning experience to its students thanks to the Alabama Power Foundation. Years of support from the foundation and others has enabled Kitty Stone to provide unique STEM learning focused on coding and robotics kits.

“The kits allow students to build robots and then program them once they’ve built them,” said Rhonda Tinker, principal of Kitty Stone’s pre-K to third grade. “Over the past couple of years, we’ve been able to buy extension kits so that there are more parts, and it gives the children the opportunity to use their creativity and build their own kind of robot. The children really enjoy that, and it stretches their critical thinking.”

Regardless of age, all students at Kitty Stone are given the opportunity to learn about robotic technology.

“Our younger grades don’t really make robots, but we do a lot of coding activities and have a lot of math involved with it,” Tinker said.

In addition to learning about robot technology in the classroom, students compete annually with other schools.

“Our older students compete in our local technology fairs as well as regional technology fairs,” said Erika Clark, principal of Kitty Stone’s fourth to sixth grades.

This past spring, Kitty Stone had two first-place winners at the state level: one in multimedia and one in robotics. Students also received second place in manual coding and third place in web design.

“That was tremendous, when you’re talking about a whole coliseum filled with students,” Clark said. “That older age group, they’ve experienced coding and robotics throughout their entire Kitty Stone career.”

Tinker believes that having access to an education in robotics can spark interest in other technology areas.

“It helps the students understand when they’re playing games, like an app or a video game, how the programmers are able to do that and understand the back end of it all a little better,” Tinker said. “It also helps to prepare the students for those kinds of jobs that certainly aren’t going to go away. By the time these students get to high school and college, there are going to be jobs out there for them that we can’t even imagine, so we’ve had to rethink the way we prepare them.”

Clark and Tinker said that once Kitty Stone students move to high school, they want them to take with them what they’ve learned in critical thinking and problem-solving.

“We want them to be able to be leaders of their own learning and to take ownership and pride in what they do,” Clark said. “We teach leadership here that cuts across every subject, every brain level.”

When it comes to the future of Kitty Stone, Clark and Tinker said the school plans to continue to promote STEM topics and expand their programs with financial help like they get from the Alabama Power Foundation.

“We’re proud of our school, and we’re proud of our teachers and students,” Tinker said.

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