New Albany High School teachers and students are working to expand the school's robotics courses and perhaps market them to schools throughout the nation.
New Albany senior Lauryn Woodyard, who took Robotics I her sophomore year, is creating a Robotics II pilot course by drafting a curriculum and integrating the district's new robot as a schoolwide learning tool.
Henry, the district's new robot, was purchased with a $19,000 grant from the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation. He speaks eight languages and is able to recognize faces and respond to requests, Woodyard said.
Henry is expected to go into elementary classrooms in March.
As part of the Robotics II pilot class, Woodyard is working with fifth-grade teachers Kathy Ricks and Peter Barnes to use Henry to teach the science of force and motion to fifth-graders. Henry will be programmed to place two small race cars on a small incline track and let them loose to show students how objects move differently in the same setting.
Woodyard is using the project to complete her senior seminar requirement to graduate from New Albany High School. The seminar requires students to research an idea and create a product.
She said throughout the experience, she has learned to meet deadlines and respond to the teachers' expectations and needs. She equated it to working as an engineer to solve a problem for a client.
"She's had to understand the teacher's goals and learn how to use the robot to teach those goals and create a program for the robot to do the work," said Superintendent April Domine. "She's solving real-world problems, working with job timelines, doing the work by a certain date and working through all the problems. This is very deep in terms of the type of learning going on."
Junior Harrine Ramesh, who is working with Woodyard on the pilot class and helping program Henry, said she's learning how to solve problems on her own.
"You can't look in a textbook and see what the answer is," she said. "This is all about trial and error."
Ramesh said she's testing herself and finding that she can stay motivated to do the work.
"Being able to learn from Lauryn has been so rewarding," she said. "I feel I've grown as a person."
Robotics teacher David Herman said if the district can raise money to purchase more robots like Henry, the district could implement a full Robotics II course.
"There are ways Henry could help in math class, he could be programmed to recite the Gettysburg Address or he could hold flash cards," Herman said. "Our desire is to build a national community of courses like this ... that could be done anywhere in the country."
Herman said if Robotics II is accepted as a course, the district will share it with educators nationwide and encourage other schools to use the integrated curriculum.
"The kids see it and get excited about computer science," Herman said. "That's our hidden agenda. We want them to see that math makes sense and is important, that science makes sense and is important."
Domine said once the district has data on how the pilot class worked, the district could seek funding partners to make it a reality.
In May 2012, the district created a research and development fund that will foster new courses and programming. Every annual budget will earmark $250,000 for the fund.
"We do think this is the type of innovation (for which) our innovation fund was established," Domine said.