Conversations with Robots: Story from a Practicum Site

OPENair Academy is located in Taxi, an intentional live-work community in the heart of Denver’s River North (RiNo) Neighborhood. Because OPENair Academy is located right in the center of this vibrant community, children and teachers from the school often venture out to explore.

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OPENair Academy‘s LoDo school is located in the innovative mixed use community, Taxi,  in Denver’s River North (RiNo) neighborhood.

img-rinoOne particular class of preschoolers and their teachers have been engaged in research around the Taxi community. The teachers in this class are part of the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP) community as both current graduate students and alumni mentors. The goal of several courses in the BJSTEP is to deeply study the intersections of theory and practice in the classroom, and this particular research began to blossom when one of the teachers was enrolled in the “Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum” course in the fall of 2015. Since the teachers first observed the children’s excitement about the neighborhood, the project has blossomed into a rich and complex study, and continues in the 2016-2017 school year, with one teacher graduating from the BJSTEP in August and another graduate student teacher joining the class in August of 2016.

The following story is a look into one small part of the neighborhood investigation, and begins with teachers’ observations of the children’s interest in a large robot they often encountered in one of the buildings on their walks around Taxi.

“I like the color of it.” -Lillian 

“Maybe it’s not working today…maybe because it’s broken?”- Jack 

“Maybe we could like take a picture of this robot.”- Leighton 

“Can you turn on the robot please?”- Vaughan 

“Maybe they like put cool stuff on it and press a button.” -Leighton 

“Why there a shoe on there?”- Dylan 

The teachers decided to reach out to the business that owned the robot, BOA Technology, and arrange for the children to visit with the employees. The employees were happy to host a visit from the children. They answered questions and gave an up-close demonstration of how the robot works.

copy-of-communication-with-parents-1-2
copy-of-communication-with-parents-6-2Upon returning to school, the children expressed a desire to build their own robot. After gathering materials, discussing their ideas, and sketching their plans, they worked together, using cardboard and other loose parts, to construct a robot that would live in their classroom.

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During the weeks that followed, the robot was explored in numerous ways. It was more than just a visual reminder of the BOA robot, it was a member of the classroom, with its own personality. However, both children and teachers noticed that the robot lost some parts over time. Rather than throwing it away, teachers saw this as an opportunity to challenge the children to think about how to revive the robot. The children had many ideas: 

“We have to fix it.” -Hadley

“With tape.” -Lio

“With lots of tape.” -Hudson

“Paint it.” – Leighton

“Horsie stickers on it.” – Lillian

“Purple marker and pink on the side and stick some things on it.”-Leighton 

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Teachers recognized that the children were engaging in the design process, ideating, creating, and testing prototypes, reflecting, and then starting the cycle over.

As the children enjoyed their new iteration, teachers wondered how to continue the process. They had been sharing documentation of the robot experiences with families, and they invited them to send materials to school that might inspire the children to continue to add parts to their creation.

One family sent some new parts, which resulted in the children engineering a working “garage door”, adding new functionality to the robot and increasing possibilities. 

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This project began with courses taken last year by one teacher enrolled in the BJSTEP and is now enriched by another. The group, however, functions as a unit. While some are children, some are alumni, some are mentors, and some are current graduate students enrolled in courses, they are all learners together. They are not only studying how the Taxi community offers possibilities to the children, they are also studying how the children and teachers offer possibilities to the community.

The class looks forward to collaborating with BOA in the future, as well as other companies and businesses based in the TAXI community. Not only do these interactions help the children understand their community, they also remind the adults of the community that children are vital parts of all communities and have unique ideas and perspectives to offer.

What potential collaborators exist beyond the walls of your school?

Author: laurenweatherly

Partner School Program Director, Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program

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