Pilot Clear Creek immersive technology program impresses kids, officials – Houston Chronicle

Science & Technology

Third-graders Eva Daly, left, Lucas Yost, Beau Geary and Brooks Fuhrman listen as classmate Landon Zingler explains his coding project through the Robotics, Coding and Computational Thinking Program at Bauerschlag Elementary School.
Lucas Yost presents his coding project to his mother, Allison, while Eva Daly presents her work to her father, Brendan, during a preview of the Robotics, Coding and Computational Thinking Program at Bauerschlag Elementary School.
Third-grader Brook’s Fuhrman’s coding project is displayed on his computer during the Robotics, Coding and Computational Thinking Program preview at Bauerschlag Elementary School.
Clear Creek ISD’s pilot Robotics, Coding and Computational Thinking program has gotten the thumbs up from Bauerschlag Elementary School third-grader Cole Menachery.
“Sometimes when you do stuff on paper it’s kinda boring, but when you can see your project this way (on a computer) with all the designs, it’s way better,” said Menachery, 9. “Kids also like to press the buttons.”
Those buttons are part of coding elements fused into Menachery’s math, reading, science and social studies curriculum. For him, RCC-integrated studies just mean more fun time in class.
“Kids really like it because (in reading) it’s not just a cool story, you’re making it into a game,” he said.
In 2021, Clear Creek ISD pre-launched the elementary-level RCC program, encouraging kids at select schools to delve deeper into their work, solve problems in new ways and enhance critical-thinking skills.
The district is piloting the RCC program in Bauerschlag, League City and Ward elementary schools. Beginning next school year, CCISD will work to implement RCC into all of its 27 elementary campuses. Tools used in the program include MinecraftEDU, VEX Robotics and Scratch, which is a block-based coding program.
The program was supported by a $73,000 donation from the district’s education foundation, which also has promised an additional $148,000 for full implementation. The program also got a boost with a recent $10,000 donation from the Space Center Rotary Club.
“The Rotary Club of Space Center felt this new project, dedicated to ‘inspiring and promoting innovative thinking’ in our elementary schools, was a worthy investment,” said Space Center Rotary Club President Stan Galanski. “Our society is changing within a single generation these days, and technology is advancing exponentially; so it is necessary we provide our children the tools to keep pace with these dynamics while showing a peaceful understanding and respect to their fellow students, colleagues and workers in their lives.”
Third-grade teacher Heidi Danner works with Cole and his classmates at Bauerschlag. She said she loves the amount of creativity, collaboration and inclusion the RCC program inspires in her pupils.
With the program, kids might build a robot in science to represent animals’ habitat adaptations or they could use Minecraft to design and create a virtual world based on a book they are studying in class.
“The amount of creativity I see is mind-blowing,” Danner said. “The kids are making (math) word problems come to life, and it just bumps it up to a deeper level of learning. This takes (learning) to a whole different place.”
In a recent lesson, the students “created a game to simplify math expressions, and the kids had to code the game,” Danner. “(Perimeter) is a hard skill to teach, but what I saw was they were excited about the content because of the coding, and they knew how to solve the math expressions because of the coding.”
Danner said the RCC program also encourages active student collaboration, lets kids see on their own where they are struggling and makes core curriculum instruction more hands-on.
Because RCC allows kids to accomplish the same task in different ways, Danner said that more of her students can be celebrated for personal abilities.
Previously with writing assignments, papers from children who struggle with writing were noticeably different from those of others when posted on the classroom wall.
“But when you’re looking at a Scratch project, everyone is on the same playing field,” Danner said, because the students can express their writing with visuals as well as words.
“They all may be different, but they get the same point across, and I love that all the children can come and participate and they can all make a project that they can be proud of.”
These students had an opportunity to display their work to their parents during a recent showcase. Laura Mackay, RCC’s program manager, said many of them were surprised to see the work their children were doing.
“They realized there is a lot of deep thinking going on, and they could see the work students put into it,” she said.
Carissa D. Lamkahouan is a correspondent for the Houston Chronicle.
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