Ed Tech

Ed Tech

Schools receive robots through ARI grant

Kentucky School Advocate
January 2016

By Matt McCarty
Staff writer

There’s a new fixture at Hazard Independent’s Roy G. Eversole Elementary, as “Barky” can be seen roaming the hallways when not in Amber Engle’s third-grade classroom.

Barky is a robot given to the district through the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative’s federal Race To the Top grant. Hazard is one of several districts in eastern Kentucky to receive a robot, officially called a double telepresence robot.

“One student said to me, ‘Barky makes learning fun,’” said Vivian Carter, Hazard’s innovation coordinator.

The doubler robot has an iPad for a face and can be driven remotely by anyone who can connect with it through the Internet. The robot’s iPad shows the user’s face and allows the user to see what the robot sees.

Barky was at Hazard Middle School last spring in a sixth-grade language arts class, but an accident left the robot out of commission after a connection issue resulted in Barky running into a door a few times, breaking his iPad.

The robot has been repaired and, after the teacher who had the robot last spring took a job in Indiana, Barky was moved to the elementary school.

“They’re so excited,” Engle said of her students. “They love it. They were so excited to see it. They’ve come up with so many good ideas (of how to utilize the robot). … They wanted it to go to recess with them.”

Utilizing the robots
The Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative distributed the robots to districts last spring. While many districts are still in the early stages of learning how to use them, they have many ideas.

Belfry High School teacher Dr. Haridas Chandran walks down the hallway
with the district’s doubler robot, being driven by junior Jaret James.

“What we did, we said OK, here’s what we have, here’s how it works,” said Katrina Slone of KVEC. “We introduced it at a meeting with having a kid drive it down into the meeting. They learn a lot faster than the grownups do, that’s for sure. And we said, ‘here’s what it is, here’s how it’s been used some places. How would you use it?’ We had each of the districts write up, here’s what we want to do with it. We gave them one to take with them and they decide how they’re going to use it.”

Slone said the initial idea was to use it for homebound students so they could be in the classroom through the robot and not miss as much instructional time.

“That’s something that we’re looking at and we hope to do that with it,” Knott County Central High School Principal Robert Pollard said. “We’ve done some distance stuff with guests coming into the room, that kind of thing. Coding class has used it for a couple of demonstrations and activities they’ve done in their classroom.”

Mark Gannon, principal of Belfry High School in Pike County, said his school also would like to use the robot for homebound students.

“We do have some students who have been on homebound, not being able to come to school, that could actually assist them,” Gannon said. “I could see that in the near future being able to allow them access to it to where they could actually attend classes, get that instruction, one-to-one instruction even though they’re not actually in the building.”

There are more opportunities beyond using it for homebound students.

“What we encouraged schools to do also was have kids come up with ways to use them,” Slone said. “One district was kind of using it for observation. The principal could go into the classroom and do observation from their office which was interesting.”

One student in Engle’s classroom suggested the robot could be used if a classmate goes on a trip.

“We have quite a few students who go on educational enhancement trips,” Engle said. “… (Through the robot) they can be in class but at the same time, the other kids, it will be like a virtual field trip for them as well.”

Carter said Hazard Independent is looking into using the robot as a transitional tool.

“When the eighth graders are going to the high school, (we could) have Barky walking down the high school hallways, going into the classrooms and introducing the new teachers,” Carter said. “… And the same way with the elementary students going to the middle school.”

Dr. Haridas Chandran, a science and robotics teacher at Belfry, said the robot could be used for team teaching. He could send the robot to a chemistry classroom if there were a chemistry subject his physics students needed to learn, and vice versa.

“The only problem here,” Chandran said, “is our Wi-Fi. Electronics are not very good in this part of the area. If our wireless network is very good, we can use all those things.”

Technology opportunities
Slone has one of the robots in her KVEC offices. KVEC hosted an hour of code in early December for the community and the robot was available for kids to drive.

Third-grade student Preston Boggs poses for a photo
with Hazard Independent’s robot, “Barky.” The robot
was being driven by teacher Amber Engle (shown on
the iPad) and was dressed in Hazard attire.
(Photo provided by Hazard Independent Schools)

“Anytime we have an event with kids, we have the kids work with it,” Slone said. “We had an entrepreneur fair with middle school kids and they drove it. And we had an event with hearing impaired and visually impaired kids and they had a blast.”

Slone said providing technology opportunities to students in the area is important, not just the double robot.

“We want to make sure that our kids have access to cutting edge, up-to-the-minute technology and are able to use it, not just look at it but actually be the users of it,” Slone said. “And also the developers and designers of it so that’s why we’re really pushing and trying to introduce coding, even at preschool.”

Belfry junior Jaret James, who is in Chandran’s innovation class, said he’s not sure of his career path he but has thought about engineering. While taking the school’s double robot for a stroll down Belfry’s hallway recently he said he liked having a class with hands on learning.

“Even though we are in eastern Kentucky, we still have a lot of access to a lot more technology,” James said.

Board View: Technology helps students find their voice

New technological opportunities are popping up in school districts throughout eastern Kentucky, thanks to the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative grant through the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative.

While students and teachers are lending their voices to the doubler robot in some districts, the technology opportunities are helping students find their voice as well, Pike County school board member Rexel Jackson said.

“We had a demonstration at … one of our board meetings where Belfry High School came. The students spoke on some of the things it’s done for them. One of them is a really introverted student and through this program – he’d never done any public speaking – he spoke that night before probably 75-100 people,” Jackson recalled. “(The student) said prior to that he would’ve never done that. … (The ARI grant is) also helping them as individuals.”

Jackson said the increase in technology in the area has made a large impact and has helped more students take advantage of those opportunities.

“It’s changed some of their career paths,” he said. “They didn’t think there would be any possibility they’d reach those fields.” 

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