Aditi Wagh, research scientist for Massachusetts Institute of Technology Scheller Teacher Education Program, works Tuesday morning with Farwell Elementary School student Adrian McCallum as he programs his robot at the Lewiston school. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — For sixth grader Alucia Murphy, becoming a robotics engineer would be a dream job.

“I’ve always been somewhat fascinated with robots, specifically entertainment ones, like the ones from Showbiz Pizza or Chuck E. Cheese,” he said.

It’s the way they work, he explained. Although the circuit boards are small, the robots can be programmed to complete intricate tasks.

On Tuesday, Murphy was one of a few dozen sixth grade students at Farwell Elementary School programming Ozobots, small classroom robots. Students in Kiani Camire’s math classes used laptops to code directions for the tiny robots, which moved precisely around the perimeter of rectangles traced on graph paper.

The goal, Camire said, was for students to use the Ozobots to visualize the distributive property, a math rule. Students coded robots to trace the 6 by 2 and 6 by 3 rectangles they drew on graph paper.

“This age of kids, they want to be on the computer, they like the coding,” she said. “It really is interesting to them. I feel like they’re more engaged because they like coding, they like figuring it out.”

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Lewiston School Department technology coach Jeff Padgett works Tuesday morning with students on their robotics project at Farwell Elementary school in Lewiston. From left are Akasmie Murchison, Salma Salad, Padgett, Grace Leblanc, Brianna Davis and Layla Bailey. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The education initiative was created in a partnership between Lewiston schools, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Scheller Teacher Education Program. Over the past year, staff from each group has worked together to design beginner coding activities to integrate in sixth grade math classes.

“It’s really important to expand opportunities for all students, regardless of their prior success in science and math, to see themselves as successful in those two disciplines,” Gulf of Maine Research Institute research scientist Amanda Dickes said. “These kinds of activities where you’re disrupting what typical class participation looks like can (help students) develop those positive senses of self.”

All of the sixth grade students at Farwell and McMahon elementary schools have participated, as well as half of the sixth grade students at Connors Elementary School.

Tiny robots are stored Tuesday at Farwell Elementary School in Lewiston. Students are learning how to program and perform tasks with tiny robots. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

While the robots are small and the coding is designed for elementary age students, sixth grader Adrian “AJ” McCallum said the process can be challenging.

He likened programming to a tower of cards. If one card is misplaced, he said, the entire thing topples.

“It’s the same thing with the code,” McCallum explained. “If one line of code isn’t there or it’s not (right) – which is called a bug – the whole thing will not work the way it’s supposed to. So I have to go through the entire lines of code and find out what’s wrong and make it right.”

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Tuesday wasn’t the first time Murphy and McCallum worked with Ozobots. The robots have made an appearance in class activities a few times over the school year, they said.

The program is unique in that it brings together educators and researchers to create activities which connect math and computing, Aditi Wagh, research scientist for Massachusetts Institute of Technology Scheller Teacher Education Program, said.

“There’s really a lot of different voices in realizing the vision of what this can look like,” she said.

The program is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Next year, staff aim to grow the program to include fifth grade students.

“We see this as a long-term partnership,” Wagh said.

Farwell Elementary School teacher Kiani Camire works Tuesday morning with Gael Ganza as he programs his robot at the Lewiston school. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Gael Ganza records commands Tuesday morning for a robot he was programming through his laptop at Farwell Elementary School in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

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