East LA Teachers Play with Robots at Lunch

Students rarely want to trade places with teachers, but teachers had all the fun this week coding robots while their young students snuck envious peeks at the door of the noontime teacher activity. The teachers stopped by to learn how easy it is to code a robot as part of the process of recruiting teachers to participate in the new program, Building Opportunities with Teachers in Schools (BOTS), created and managed by USC Viterbi Adopt-a-School, Adopt-a-Teacher (USC VAST). BOTS aims to empower first and second grade teachers at three elementary schools in East Los Angeles to bring coding, robotics, and computational thinking into their classrooms. The program is currently in its exploratory phase at Murchison Street Elementary School, and intends to expand in the fall to run again at Murchison as well as at Sheridan and St. Odilia School. To recruit and excite the teachers at the new schools, USC student volunteers from the Robogals and CODE ON! organizations brought the robots to Sheridan Street Elementary and St. Odilia. 

The hands-on session this week fueled me with excitement and enthusiasm in diving into the world of computer science.

   - Mrs Gabriela Gutierrez


Robogals volunteer Sithara Kamalakkannan and Sheridan teacher Ms. Reyes enjoying coding with the Sphero SPRK+ robot

BOTS is a strategic solution to the well-documented problem of unequal access to 21st century digital skills within East Los Angeles schools serving low income neighborhoods (Margolis et al). BOTS helps build digital equity by forming a Research-Practitioner Partnership between three East LA elementary schools, USC VAST, and the Specialty Family Foundation to support ten first- and second-grade teachers in a robotics-based Community of Practice (COP) throughout the 2018-19 academic year. By boosting teacher ability and self-confidence to teach coding and introduce robots as authentic, real-world digital learning opportunities, BOTS pilots a sustainable solution to the need identified in the 2016 recommendations by Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)’s Instructional Technology (IT) Task Force: “[p]rofessional learning opportunities for all stakeholders [are] imperative to educate leaders on how to incorporate digital learning tools and how to adapt instruction to the opportunities afforded by digital tools” (15). BOTS’s goal is to empower teachers to teach coding and robotics activities that produce measurable impact in computational thinking among their 1st- and 2nd-grade students so that schools can to “skillfully mentor and inspire students to amplify learning with technology and challenge them to be agents of their own learning” (IT Task Force 17) and stop outsourcing tech teaching to costly third-party vendors or to volunteers with intermittent commitment or funding.

The teachers responded enthusiastically to the Sphero SPRK+ robots, which BOTS will pair with professional development from Code.org. Mrs. Gabriela Gutierrez at Sheridan Street Elementary wrote in an email: "The hands-on session this week fueled me with excitement and enthusiasm in diving into the world of computer science.  My students had their very first day of coding and it was such a treat to see their faces light up when they completed a maze or lesson.  We have such a talented group of students at Sheridan and I am thrilled to be able to offer robotics and coding to my community." After seeing how popular the robots were with his faculty – and the excited students crowding at the door -- Sheridan’s principal, Mr. Antonio Amparan, said he was already eager to expand the program.


At St. Odilia School, Ms. Garcia and Ms. Luna programmed the Sphero SPRK+ robots with block coding.

The first training for teachers kicks off on August 6, so teachers will be ready to bring to their students this fun way to learn computational thinking, starting in fall of 2018. BOTS joins another USC VAST project, the Robotics and Coding Academy, directed by USC Viterbi Professor Gisele Ragusa, in USC VAST's mission to use research results to improve the STEM college and career pathways of under-represented minorities in high needs, under-resourced schools.


Robogals volunteer Sithara Kamalakkannan and Sheridan principal Mr. Antonio Amparan using an iPad to interact with the Sphero


USC VAST robotics coordinator Tyler LaBonte and Sheridan teacher Mr. Maldonado after coding the Sphero to roll autonomously in a square

Published on May 8th, 2018

Last updated on October 6th, 2020