BOTS Program Description

Building Opportunities with Teachers in Schools (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 four East LA elementary schools, USC Viterbi K-12 STEM Center, and the Specialty Family Foundation to support eight 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’ 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.

USC Family of Schools Partners Murchison St. Elementary and Sheridan St. Elementary each provide four teachers, covered by this proposal, and the Specialty Family Foundation covers the costs for two teachers at St. Odilia School, all in LAUSD Local District East.

BOTS participants will co-create a proven, teacher-centric, sustainable and scalable program in computational skill for urban schools that will be made freely available. In the COP, BOTS teachers will learn coding and robotics together and support one another to integrate these 21st century technologies in their weekly in-class curricula. Monthly Professional Development provides structure and content developed in collaboration with USC Viterbi robotics experts, the nonprofit, and LAUSD leaders in Instructional Technology to provide key age-appropriate computer science principles and practices aligned with Common Core Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and ISTE Standards. The cohort will co-create cost-effective lessons by innovating the proven and free coding curricula available from through the addition of low-cost robots.

Outreach to the families of the students of the BOTS teachers is also important. BOTS recognizes that family engagement within the largely immigrant communities surrounding these schools helps communicate the unprecedented need for computational fluency. Three family events -- a fall orientation, a winter showcase and a spring certificate ceremony -- reinforce how the entire community benefits from digital achievement through their children. The 1st and 2nd graders gain agency to navigate a world increasingly run by algorithms and artificial intelligence and are launched on a computer science path that leads to solid college and career opportunities.

Two USC student volunteer organizations, RoboGals and Code On!, will engage teachers, students and student families at key points during the academic year with fun robotics activities that support the program’s goals to provide innovation and mentorship.

Assessment -- both formative and summative -- is provided by a consulting STEM education expert.

Published on March 7th, 2018

Last updated on November 10th, 2020