A curriculum component at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) is helping better prepare Grades 7 and 8 students for high school in the digital age.
“We are increasingly more aware of the need to ensure that our students have some coding and robotics in their academic portfolios,” says Matthew Pagano ’92, Core Intermediate Department Head and teacher at SMCS. “Coding fosters creativity, improves math scores, improves academic performance in other courses, and helps children become confident in problem-solving. In short, it is literacy in the digital age.”
The Intermediate Coding & Robotics Sessions, as they’ve come to be known, occur weekly between January and April. Sessions are usually held in the Robert Campeau Lecture Hall where students can be seen working in small groups on shared laptops or utilizing the room’s ample space to test out their current projects.
“It is an extension of the Grade 7 and 8 mathematics curriculum and focuses on the global competencies of collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking,” says Pagano, referring to three of the six Deep Learning skill sets that students need to achieve in order to be successful in today’s world.
Since the 2018-19 academic year, SMCS has been working with Logics Academy, a leader in K-12 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education, to deliver the programme to these students.
“The goals of our courses are to provide students with the opportunity to develop learning and innovation skills,” says Giuliano Volpe ’08, one of the facilitators from Logics Academy. “We aim to help bolster their critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity by using fun and meaningful experiments with the aid of robotics and robotic equipment that they design, build, and program.”
“Students will get a large amount of programming and project design experience as well as the ability to persevere and innovate in the face of new and sometimes overwhelming concepts,” says Volpe. “I try to link everything we learn to the ‘real world’ so that students can visualize how much effort goes into making our modern world work.”
“I think having this kind of logical thinking is important to help them see the world in a different way,” he adds. “It really helps them understand how engineers and scientists design and implement technology.”
In addition to using the coding and robotics sessions to engage and strengthen these skills in our younger students, Pagano says, “It is also an opportunity for us to expose them to a different academic stream that they may choose to follow in later grades.”
Currently, the engineering and robotics programme at SMCS starts in Grade 11, where students begin to develop their knowledge and skills in electronics, robotics, programming, and networks. They may then choose to further develop and apply those skills the following year in the Grade 12 computer engineering course offered at SMCS.
According to Pagano, students are enjoying the work and are always engaged in their weekly sessions.
“I had no clue how to code when we started,” says Thomas Rebello, a Grade 7 student. “I find it fun to code with friends and I learned how to make the robot [we were working with] detect walls and back away from them.”
Volpe, an SMCS alumnus says, “I'm excited to be back here giving the boys an experience that I wish I had back then.”
“Robotics and programming have come a long way to become more accessible and I appreciate the opportunity to introduce new people to what can be an otherwise mysterious subject for some,” he says.
For students under 14 years of age who have an interest in robotics, they also have the opportunity to expand their knowledge and get introduced to the world of robotics in the SMCS VEX IQ Club that’s been designed to do just that.