Miniature robots introduced to local elementary classrooms this school year are helping develop everything from computer coding skills to problem-solving and collaboration, according to teachers and students who have embraced them.

Miniature robots introduced to local elementary classrooms this school year are helping develop everything from computer coding skills to problem-solving and collaboration, according to teachers and students who have embraced them.

Barrington Elementary School third-graders scurried excitedly Jan. 13 when their teacher, Katie Benton, announced it was time to retrieve their Dash and Dot robots for an afternoon class period.

What ensued could be confused by the casual onlooker as playtime with remote control toys.

But close observation revealed the students were embarking on a continued progression of learning that began earlier in the year when the robots were introduced.

Students began to sync computer tablets to their robots -- which looked something like plastic balls on wheels with an electric eyeball -- and through the use of apps began to make them speak, play music, cross bridges and bulldoze blocks.

"It's really just authentic learning and problem-solving," Benton said. "The best part is, every time we use them we learn something new."

That assertion played out time and again during the next 40 minutes, as groups of students used computer coding to instruct their devices to complete tasks they previously hadn't attempted or had proved elusive.

Student Brady Duboe proudly showed how he taught his robot to say "hamburger," while Eliza Paxton showed her robot, dubbed "Gumball," could play an original music arrangement on a xylophone.

Benton then pointed to a group of boys who the prior day came up short in a bid to have their robot, "Jerry," traverse a ramp and bridge made of wooden blocks.

Then Cooper McGinty watched as his bit of tinkering with coding propelled Jerry forward and successfully over the structure that a day earlier had been an insurmountable obstacle.

Classmate Lucy Baker, who also was creating an original piece of music, summed things up by saying, "There are lots of things we can make them do. For example, you can make them go, and then you can make them turn left. There's just a ton of stuff you can do."

Benton said the introduction of the robots occurred after she was researching new ways to implement technology into classrooms.

There's a new emphasis on such efforts in Upper Arlington school buildings this year, not only because teachers constantly strive to prepare students for college and careers in the 21st century, but also because all students in the district now have computer devices like tablets to supplement learning schoolwork.

She then reached out to the Upper Arlington Education Foundation (UA+ED), which annually provides grants to local schools for everything from classroom materials and programs to outside trips that facilitate learning and enrich educational experiences.

The UA+ED then teamed with the Barrington Parent Teacher Organization to give Benton a $2,500 grant to purchase enough Dash and Dot robots for her classroom.

"Our UA+ED trustees were excited to see these child-friendly robots introduced at Barrington," said Alice Finley, UA+ED program and project specialist. "Katie Benton is a UA district iCoach, helping to integrate technology into the curriculum.

"The Dash and Dot robots are programmed using the iPads that all K-3 UA students now have thanks to the One2One district initiative. Her third-grade students are learning programming skills, as well as science and math. Once they have mastered these skills, they will teach students in other classrooms at Barrington."

Benton said her students have begun to use knowledge they've gained using the robots to share them with other classes throughout Barrington.

She said that not only stretches the financial value of the robots, but also enhances education by bolstering student collaboration and leadership skills.

"One of the things we wanted to do was spread the excitement and use the technology throughout the building," Benton said. "(My students) know their job is not to show other students everything, but be the facilitator of learning.

"They go from basic coding that can be done by kindergartners, to advanced paths of collaboration and problem-solving."

Benton said Barrington's music teachers also are exploring how they can incorporate the robots into their classrooms, and both students and teachers benefit because new lessons are learned through "inquiry and perseverance."

"So far, the possibilities are still endless and we've had them since October," she said. "The students are totally engaged because they're curious and there's excitement every time they use them."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate