Edison Bots programming at Brewer Community School

Edison Bot up close

Pictured: Poster in Mr. Kumpa’s bedroom linking computer tasks to classroom concepts.

Computer science isn’t that scary, just ask Bob Kumpa’s 8th grade science students at Brewer Community School in central Maine. As a precursor to a physics unit, students incorporated computer skills into the classroom by programming an Edison Bot to navigate the maze of their creation.

The students drew any design they wanted on a poster in the hope that they would then program an Edison Bot to navigate the design. Mr. Kumpa also instructed the Bot to perform actions such as reverse, turn and turn. Creativity was not lacking as the students designed thematic tracks such as Chutes and Ladders, Super Mario, trick-or-treat, passing on a football field and even one where the Bot runs through the digestive system.

Students Julia Spencer (left) and Delaney McDonough (right) write their ice cream maze

Students Julia Spencer (left) and Delaney McDonough (right) write their ice cream maze

Student designs Mario-themed maze

A student designs a Mario-themed maze

Student designs a Chutes and Ladders theme

The student designs a theme of falls and ladders

A finished product of a Candyland Themed Maze

A finished product of a Candyland themed maze

In eighth grade, Julia Rall, who also programmed her Bot to perform the Star Wars theme song, says the creativity aspect is her favorite. She wasn’t intimidated by IT, saying, “I feel like we’ve made it pretty easy. It’s just a lot of issues that you have to deal with.

The students programmed their Bot with the Block or Python coding included in the EdScratch program. To navigate their design, some students chose to use the trial and error method or, like project partners Julia Spencer and Delaney McDonough, some attempted to accurately measure distance and angles to the advance. Delaney said that she and Julia thought it was the best way to do it because “that way we didn’t have to [unnecessarily] keep doing it over and over again.

Kumpa told us that the experience of perseverance through debugging does not happen by chance, but rather is one of the fundamental parts of the business. He hopes it is these types of skills that translate into other sciences and other subjects, which is the main reason he used the Edison Bots in the first place.

The Bots were provided in 2018 through a grant from the Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center) at the University of Maine, in collaboration with their Maine STEM Partnership division, for a three-year study on the impact of computing . Kumpa, who has done extensive work with the RiSE Center for the past 12 years, described the aim of the study to see whether “computer science education will enhance learning other sciences.”

Besides Brewer, 18 other schools are participating in the study across the state. While Kumpa focuses on connecting computer science to physics, other schools have the opportunity to integrate computer science into life sciences or earth sciences as well.

If this study proves successful, Kumpa said the hope would be to “allocate dollars to take computers to younger people.” Getting students to be more exposed to IT not only provides a regular experience of problem solving and critical thinking, but also an opportunity to shed the intimidating stigma of IT.

For more information on the Edison Bots or the RiSE Center, please do not hesitate to contact Bob Kumpa at [email protected]

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Sam D. Gomez