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Murrysville

Franklin Regional fifth-graders piloting Carnegie Mellon robotics kits

Patrick Varine
| Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, 2:06 p.m.
Nick Alisesky, 11, of Murrysville works with classmates using Flutter robotics kits, created by Carnegie Mellon University's CREATE Lab, on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. Franklin Regional is one of three districts piloting the kits.
Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Nick Alisesky, 11, of Murrysville works with classmates using Flutter robotics kits, created by Carnegie Mellon University's CREATE Lab, on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. Franklin Regional is one of three districts piloting the kits.
Jude Klemstine, 11, works to program a Flutter robot, designed by Carnegie Mellon's CREATE Lab, on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018.
Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Jude Klemstine, 11, works to program a Flutter robot, designed by Carnegie Mellon's CREATE Lab, on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018.
Heritage Elementary School fifth-grader Ethan Lew shows the Flutter microcontroller he and other students are working with in Brandi Sberna's math class.
Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Heritage Elementary School fifth-grader Ethan Lew shows the Flutter microcontroller he and other students are working with in Brandi Sberna's math class.

When Nick Alisesky steps off the bus in the afternoon, he usually doesn't have a lot to say about his school day.

So his mother, Danielle, was immediately interested when he came home talking about the Flutter robotics kits he was using in his fifth-grade math class at Franklin Regional's Heritage Elementary School.

“He doesn't say much, but he has actually talked about these,” Danielle said. “He was very excited about it.”

He's not the only one.

Flutter kits for math classrooms were developed through Carnegie Mellon University's CREATE Lab and are being piloted at three school districts, including Franklin Regional.

The kit's goal is to introduce the programming of robots into elementary curricula by having students program and design a mini-robot with blinking lights and servo motors to power moving parts. Different versions of the kit have been developed for science and now math classrooms over the past two years.

“Nick talked about how he made the eyes light up by solving equations and was able to make the tail move,” Danielle said. “He said the kits made him want to solve the problems they presented.”

Fifth-grade teacher Brandi Sberna learned about the kits from a friend who was working with the CREATE Lab's Fluency project and said she was very impressed.

“To be bringing it into my math class was really interesting because robotics is traditionally associated with science class,” Sberna said.

The discipline crossover is by no means accidental: Franklin Regional administrators and staff have been working for a few years to integrate STEAM concepts — science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics — at all levels of the curriculum.

“I think several students who may otherwise not be as excited by something like long division now have a tool that will help generate that interest,” Sberna said. “For me, it's invigorating.”

Alisesky, 11, said he likes seeing his class work translate into something tangible.

“Once you're finished with your math problems, you're not really finished,” he said. “You got to (input) it into Flutter and watch it move.”

Callie Kapusta, 11, had a similar opinion.

“I enjoy how it's more than just writing and answering a question on a piece of paper,” Callie said.

Sberna said both she and her students had to overcome some apprehension about the kits.

“Struggling in the (teacher) training put me in the position of a struggling student, which I haven't experienced for a while,” she said. “But if I do things the way I always have, I'm not doing my part as a learner.”

Jude Klemstine, 11, said his favorite part comes after the official class work is done.

“We have free time afterwards sometimes to play around with the servo motors and the colors,” he said. “I really enjoy playing around and seeing the other colors of lights you can do.”

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

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