By Dawn M. Aerts
Iron County Today
CEDAR CITY–If you like Ozobots or Spheros, cool robotics, or maybe hummingbirds that come to life in code tech, there will be plenty to talk about among the 150-200 teachers and staff who attended the #Cool2Code ‘Kick Off’ at Cedar North Elementary last week.
The event was designed to introduce teachers to the wonders of technology – using drones, mini-robots and new pathways to explore computer science in the classroom. Teachers were also invited to mingle with tech-partners who will bring resources and professional talents to local students, thanks to a grant by the Utah Stem Action Center (USAC) which will award $ 534,000 in funds over a 3- year period.
While the main purpose of the Stem grant is to provide a pathway for more students to find their way into coding, computing and robotics fields (computer sciences) – it will also expand the programs and activities that can lead students to pursue higher education opportunities with certifications and internships in-hand.
“The (Iron County) School District wants to see more young people, better prepared to pursue educational and career opportunities in the high-tech industries,” explained Cory Henwood, digital teaching and learning specialist, “With those unique skills that can fill employer needs and build up the local economy.”
The ‘Teacher Kick-Off’ focused on the individual partnerships came to introduce, display, and demonstrate with their own unique programs, applications and resources and a sample of animated and code-driven high-tech gadgets to explore.
The school district also exhibited the new keyboarding software for students (grades 2 through 5), and Osmo Coding Manipulatives and screen readers for early coding learning, in K through 1st, as well as Hour of Code activities from Code.org.
Henwood noted that (the STEM Center) and Southern Utah University will offer (CMU) Create Lab Robotics training to elementary and middle schools, with outreach to less-represented students (women and people of color) using SheTech and Aspirations programs, with a library of STEM resources for check-out use by district teachers.
The District’s partnership with CodeChangers will expand into various elementary classrooms and into middle and high school CTE tech classrooms. Henwood explained that CodeChangers, (a tech-education company based in St. George) will introduce students to coding activities during the school year, with afterschool and summer camps offered — at low or no cost to families.
In addition, SW Tech will assist in designing a pathway for high schoolers to become certified in Computer Science fields with no-cost testing for students who complete the program. And Tech Up Southern Utah, with the Chamber of Commerce, will connect business professionals-and-mentors with students via applications like Nepris (video mentoring) and by placing student interns in local businesses.
Those who attended the kick-off were invited to enjoy SUU demonstrations of programmable robots, and other high-tech products that nurture creativity, problem-solving and highlights the demand in computing occupations. According to Henwood, the STEM grant will provide teachers with a wide spectrum of incredible technology, with resources and expertise that will now be available to them in the classroom.
Aside from the makey, makey, spheros and ozobots roaming across the gymnasium floor, there were displays by the FIRST LEGO League (with applications) developed to introduce young students to science concepts, teamwork and coding software displays (with built-in graders) to help students do “code” at their own pace.
“This Utah Stem Action Center grant has made these partnerships and opportunities for teachers and students possible – I know the teachers and their students will find this (way) Cool.”
Caption: (Left to Right) Local teachers who attended ZCool2Code ‘Teacher Kick-Off’ Toni Robison, Parowan Elementary; Becky Comstock, 1st Grade Teacher, North Elementary; Melissa Carter, 1st Grade Teacher, North Elementary; Amy Wilkey 2nd Grade Teacher Parowan Elementary and Lance Gardner, 2nd grade, Escalante Valley. Photo by J. Aerts.