Students at Sutter Elementary School—renowned for its annual frog jump—have taken to computers like frogs eagerly jumping into a creek. Thanks to simplified laptops called Chromebooks that were introduced to the entire student body, including the kindergarteners, in the 2017 – 2018 academic year, some students are already building robots from kits and programming them to do simple tasks.
Parents were invited to visit classrooms and watch students demonstrate their projects during Sutter’s second Code to the Future Epic Showcase on May 18. The Cycle I Code to the Future showcase, in January, focused on the coding concepts of sequence, loop and logic.
Cycle II was about robotics. Fourth graders programmed their robots to demonstrate animal behaviors. Parents saw a robot charge like a bull when it sensed red. A robotic “cat” chased a ball of yarn, and a “dog” barked and wagged its tail.
Fifth-grade teammates Madison, Sammy and Maram named their robot Grace “because it’s graceful.” The girls’ task was to program Grace to help out on the school’s small farm.
The team demonstrated how Grace could detect green weeds, pick them and drop them into a bucket.
“We always pick weeds on the farm, and sometimes they poke you. So they won’t poke a robot,” said one of the girls.
“We used apps to make a program and downloaded the program onto a robot we made from a kit using some Lego pieces,” explained another.
“It’s pretty exciting that it was successful. We’re proud of what we did,” said the third. “We think we did a good job!”
Fifth-grade teammates Zain and Andrew demonstrated how their robot, which they called a salesman, could pick up a plant and deliver it to a farm customer.
“I love seeing the excitement in our students’ eyes and the anticipation of them presenting and answering questions about their projects,” said Sutter Principal Michael Fong. “This is what learning is suppose to be like: Student are engaged, students show off their thought process and problem solving skills, and students communicate their ideas.”
“It’s important that the school is doing this. I feel lucky that they implemented it at Sutter,” said Madison’s mom, Kelly Teixeira. “I don’t know anything about coding, so the kids in the fifth grade know more than I’ll ever know.”
Sutter is one of two computer science immersion elementary schools—the other being Montague—in the Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD). Every student has a Chromebook for classroom use. It’s the kickoff of SCUSD’s plan to provide all district students with electronic devices by 2020.
According to Andrew C. Lucia, SCUSD Assistant Superintendent, School Support and District Development, the district allocated $2.9 million in 2017-18 and $3.8 million in 2018-19 from state Redevelopment Agency one-time funds for the 1:1 student mobile devices. General funds cover the technology support programs such as teacher training.
SCUSD Board of Trustees Member Jodi Muirhead takes a personal interest in the technology project. In college, she was one of only a few women in computer science.
“The district recognizes that for all kids, and especially girls, the younger they get exposed to technology, the more likely they are to stick with it as they get older,” said Muirhead at Sutter’s Epic Showcase.
The Chromebooks are so popular that the district has to wait in line for its order to be filled. In 2017 – 2018, all fifth graders in the district and 10th and 11th graders at two high schools had Chromebooks.
“It’s a supply issue,” said Muirhead. “We need 15,000, and we can’t get them fast enough.”
“This is almost a revolutionary idea. It definitely prepares kids for the future,” said software engineer Ankur Agarwal, dad of fourth grader Annika.
“This is a skill that will be in demand, and coding is important for life skills. In the 21st century, coding is the skill that everybody needs to understand to work and build new products, to find competitive jobs, and for America to stay competitive in the world,” said Agarwal.