Not long ago, students in robotics class at Webb Middle School would need nearly an entire quarter to accomplish what many can now do in just six or seven days. Robotics teacher Frank Marcantoni says it’s a tribute to nearby elementary schools’ growing commitment to starting computer science and coding lessons all the way down in kindergarten.
“That’s the level of sophistication they have,” he said as Webb students demonstrated four different types of robots during an event Thursday at Leto High School. “Their experience completely changes the way we think.”
As one student steered a robot to pick up a block, the audience cheered. Earlier, after a Town and Country Elementary student programmed a mouse to navigate its way around barricades to complete a maze, the audience also cheered.
There was even more cheering a few minutes later when guests from The Brink Foundation announced a $35,000 donation to support more innovative STEM education at seven schools in the Town ‘n’ Country area. The schools – Leto High, Webb Middle, Pierce Middle, Town and Country Elementary, Dickenson Elementary, Morgan Woods Elementary and Woodbridge Elementary – each received $5,000 from the foundation.
“The future only becomes a reality because of folks like you,” Chris Brink told students, teachers and principals.
The seven schools collectively form a STEM Innovation Hub, a coordinated effort meant to give students access to challenging, cutting-edge science, technology, engineering and mathematics coursework from kindergarten through graduation. Area 2 Superintendent Marcos Murillo said the goal is to provide “rigorous” and “exciting” opportunities.
“We’re huge believers that this can be a model for the entire nation,” he said.
District STEM director Larry Plank noted that while STEM is a focus at many schools throughout the district, the “hub” approach that incorporates schools and their feeders is what makes the Town ‘n’ Country effort and a similar one forming in New Tampa something to celebrate.
He told the students about job opportunities in Tampa that start in the $75,000-a-year range, jobs that await workers with the critical thinking and problem solving skills that computer science allows students to exercise each day.
Town and Country teacher Christina Calve is thrilled her students will now have even more opportunities for meaningful, hands-on learning.
“We are so excited to receive this grant,” said Calve, a science resource teacher. “Our students, although young, are really where we’re going in the future. Being able to have experiences in coding and working together and being cooperative in applying not only science skills but mathematics and using the technology available, we’re really preparing not only Tampa Bay but our entire nation for success.”
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