Robots will roam second-grade classrooms at Columbus Municipal School District later this month.
Second grade students at CMSD will learn how to code and program two types of robots with the help of mentors from the Golden Triangle Coding Academy Nov. 26-30.
After CMSD received a combined $4,000 in donations from Columbus Light and Water and Tennessee Valley Authority, the district purchased 24 robots to implement STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) into the curriculum.
CMSD Superintendent Cherie Labat said the importance of introducing STEM to young students extends beyond the classroom.
“Coding has shown to improve math, science and reading skills,” Labat said. “It also gives them a systematic approach to problem-solving. I feel that coding will be a 21st century skill that will be necessary for students as we evolve in the world of economic development.”
Labat said she had planned to implement coding into the district’s curriculum sometime in the future, but everything started to fall into place last month.
Coders from the Golden Triangle Coding Academy will engage with students and teachers during “coding week.”
The Coding Academy is an 11-month program for high school graduates that teaches coding and other technological and life skills. GTR Coding is one of two Mississippi Coding Academy programs in the state, a $25,000 career-advancement program offered tuition-free thanks to funding from East Mississippi Community College and other state organizations.
Angela Bluitt, who teaches Coding Academy students soft skills — such as interviewing, financial management and writing skills — collaborated with Labat to bring 22 coders into the elementary classrooms later this month. Bluitt has been working with coders on creating lesson plans and instructional material for each classroom.
Labat added the partnership with the coding academy benefits both the students at CMSD and the coders.
“We had the coding academy and it was something we couldn’t wait on because we had the talent of the coding academy, the resources with the academy and the funds to make it happen,” Labat said. “(The coders) have the opportunity to take the high application of what they’ve learned and really scaffold it down to a second-grader. When you know something well you’re able to say it in the simplest terms. They are very excited about teaching our students about coding.”
Bluitt said the coders will start teaching the second-graders the coding basics by using “coding toys” to spark students’ interest in coding and STEM. Though the coders will only spend one week with the district, they will give teachers materials and projects to implement coding throughout the year. The crash course on coding will use the robots CMSD purchased to teach students simple coding techniques with a hands-on experience.
“We want them to get the exposure early,” Bluitt said. “If we present it to them at their level, in an exciting and inviting way, … they want more, and they want to continue that, instead of waiting until they’ve already created those biases, especially girls, that math and sciences are too hard. So we can spark and initiate a stronger thirst for the STEM subjects.”
Labat added the partnership is in the early stages but hopes to eventually extend coding into all classrooms at CMSD.
“It’s been an awesome collaboration because everyone is winning,” Labat said. “The students are winning. The teachers are winning, the programmers are getting applications and taking their skills and developing students. It’s just a great partnership. We want to make sure we support all students in technology, and especially young girls in STEM initiatives. Encouraging those students to not be afraid of failing. That’s the biggest part of the STEM initiative, failure is a part of success.”
CLW Executive Director Todd Gale said this was a perfect opportunity for the utility and TVA to invest in the community’s future.
“TVA looks to step in and help schools in certain situations,” Gale said. “We went and visited the school district and (Labat) had this idea of using robots for education in coding. We’re just trying to assist, anything we can do to help our future workforce and hopefully better their education.”