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From Zoggendoodleheimers to Robots: CORE Summer Camp Gets Students Coding

Friday, June 29, 2018

Marian High School Summer STEM CampPhoto Credit: Seamus Ronan

“This apparatus is one of a kind,” Jackie Salas tells her middle school students, holding up the mysterious bundle wrapped in a white plastic bag. “So, for those of you who were able to create this apparatus, you are part of Marian High School history. We’ll call it… the Zoggendoodleheimer!”

STEM Camp Marian High School MishawakaIt’s the first day of Notre Dame’s Coding and Robotics Experience (CORE) Summer Camp at Marian High School in Mishawaka, Indiana. Salas, an ACE 22 Teaching Fellow (Atlanta) who now teaches middle school science and tenth grade chemistry in Boston, has spent the past half hour helping her students write “pseudo-codes”—lists of specific instructions to help one another build their own Zoggendoodleheimer replicates from pipe cleaners, paper cups, sticky notes, toothpicks, rubber bands, binder clips, and masking tape.

“Can someone tell me the benefits of writing pseudocode before actually building the apparatus?” Salas asks.

“It helps me become a lot more detailed,” one student offers.

“It helps us explain the procedure so that people can think more logically about the steps!”

“No more discussion!” a third student pleads, eager to see the Zoggendoodleheimer.

Marian High School’s CORE Summer Camp is one in a series of camps run across the country by Notre Dame’s Center for STEM Education. Taught by graduates of ACE Teaching Fellows in collaboration with local teachers, these camps introduce students from groups typically underrepresented in STEM fields and from low socio-economic backgrounds to programming.

“Before anything else, we need to love the kids we are privileged to teach.”

While some of Salas’ students have coded before with school clubs and local robotics competitions, and others are writing code for the first time, Salas wants each of her students to feel challenged and engaged. When she reveals the Zoggendoodleheimer—a conglomeration of pipe cleaners, clips, and tape attached to a paper cup—some of her students dejectedly compare it to their own creations assembled per their classmates’ pseudocode instructions. Salas encourages them to see their struggle with the activity as a learning experience.

“Failure is a beautiful thing!” she says, and her students reflect on how the pseudocode activity has made them feel and how it will help them approach coding for their robots with greater confidence later in the course.

At the CORE Summer Camp, Salas also mentors two first-year Teaching Fellows, Thomas Clark and Monica Ulrich, who will help teach the class this summer. As a mentor teacher, Salas helps Clark and Ulrich write lesson plans, observes their teaching, and gives them feedback as they learn to engage students in the classroom.

“I hope that ACErs come to learn that teaching is a ministry, and not just a job,” Salas said. “Before anything else, we need to love the kids we are privileged to teach.”

Finch RobotToward the end of class, Salas distributes a Finch robot and laptop to each of her students—the devices with which they will practice coding this summer. The robot—a white, plastic shell on wheels, shaped to look like a bird with a multicolored lit nose—receives coded commands through a USB cable. Salas guides the students through a video tutorial and then challenges them to program their Finch robots to roll forward in straight lines. Soon, Finch robots are wobbling across tabletops and under chairs.

In the coming weeks, the campers will learn basic coding with SNAP and Scratch software, in order to develop their own games and apps, and to teach their Finch robots to navigate mazes and ultimately play a game of “Finch FIFA World Cup Soccer.” While Salas is excited to help her students learn to code, she most wants them to see that science is not something to memorize or perfect, but instead a way to engage more thoughtfully with their surroundings.

“My greatest hope is that the students [see] that science is always evolving,” Salas said. “It is learned through our everyday human experiences, and it’s all about [making] sense of the world that we live in.”

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