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Robotics kits integrate STEAM concepts into Franklin Regional's Sloan Elementary classrooms

| Friday, May 19, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

Fourth-grade students at Sloan Elementary used their knowledge of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics — STEAM — to create automated dioramas featuring warships, Iron Man and even the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from “Ghostbusters.”

Using Hummingbird robotics kits, a spin-off product of Carnegie Mellon University's CREATE lab that was purchased by Birdbrain Technologies, 24 students displayed their projects this week for parents and siblings.

“We asked if we could implement it as a morning club,” fourth-grade teacher Carmen Loughner said of the district-funded program. “The kids would come in before school and sometimes during recess.”

For Franklin Regional School District Superintendent Gennaro Piraino, the club represented a perfect commingling of disciplines.

“This incorporates all aspects of STEAM education,” Piraino said. “It's really great to see what the kids have created.”

For Katie Henry, professional development director at Birdbrain Technologies, the kits are a way to integrate STEAM concepts into non-STEAM classrooms.

“The kit was researched and developed as part of (Birdbrain) founder Tom Lauwers' doctoral dissertation at Carnegie Mellon,” Henry said. “The first projects were ‘robot theaters,' with animated robots reenacting scenes from ‘Romeo and Juliet.'”

The kits also have another goal.

“Girls are not electing to go into computer science, and a lot of that is the misconception that it's ‘something only boys do,' ” Henry said. “It's a way to make robots out of art materials and to get students thinking creatively about robotics across disciplines.”

Birdbrain Technologies formed partly in response to growing educator demand for the kits once company officials began piloting them in regional schools.

“The kits are now in thousands of classrooms around the world,” Henry said.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Dan Clark and Lucy Mocharko check out an automated diorama built by Sloan Elementary School fourth-graders using Hummingbird robotics kits. Tuesday, May 16, 2017.
Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Skylar Van Soest checks out the automated diorama built by his son Emerson (in blue hoodie) and teammates Ikaika Perry, Noah Zimmerman and Tyler Spears on Tuesday, May 16, 2017. The projects were created using Hummingbird robotics kits purchased by the school district.
Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Parents and students check out Franklin Regional fourth-graders' projects at Sloan Elementary School on Tuesday, May 16, 2017. The automated dioramas were created using Hummingbird robotics kits purchased by the school district.
Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Sloan Elementary fourth-grader Liam Copeland stands by his team's automated model of Marvel Comics superhero Iron Man on Tuesday, May 16, 2017. Through the Project Lead the Way program, elementary students will have a dedicated unit next year on robotics concepts.
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