Hooking Students on Computer Science

When our middle school students arrive at DPA, many are intrigued by the idea of computer science but not quite sure exactly what it is.

Our teachers have found a sure-fire way to make computer science immediately exciting and accessible.


Maybe it’s our love of science fiction and our familiarity with images of futuristic worlds with super-intelligent machines. Or maybe it’s just that we’ve all seen robots and realized how cool they are.

Whether you’re in middle school or middle-aged, everyone is into robots.

Which is why this summer we launched a pilot program with iRobot to teach students the fundamentals of robotics. We are grateful to the Players Coalition and Super Bowl Champion Kyle Arrington for connecting us with this great organization! Because of the success of the summer pilot, we are now expanding it as an elective for all DPA middle school students.

The beauty of the iRobot program lies in its simplicity. Using software on Chromebooks, the robots can be programmed to use a dry-erase marker to draw on a whiteboard. Students just have to imagine the shape or image they want the robot to draw and then program it to do what they envision.

The iRobot program is tailor-made for computer science novices because it offers three layers of coding. Beginner students can simply use pictures, then they can progress to a mixture of pictures and script, and they finally learn how to use only script. Along the way, they are thinking analytically and learning the foundations of coding.

Two students sit on the floor as one points to an object in front of them.

Our iRobot pilot is being led by Erin Roberts, our Dean of Social and Emotional Learning. She previously served as a humanities teacher. Inspired by her mom, a computer teacher, Ms. Roberts began incorporating digital literacy skills into her teaching to better equip scholars for the future. On her own initiative, she decided to get her tech certification.

After conversations with Erin and I, iRobot generously agreed to donate 6 robots to allow us to launch the pilot. Erin said the student engagement was immediate, and she was amazed at how quickly students made progress thanks to their curiosity and excitement.

That pilot initially served a mere 6 summer school student and will soon be serving  20-28 students in grades 6-8.

Peek into one of our robotics electives and you’ll see Ms. Roberts walking around as groups of students excitedly program their iRobots to draw triangles, hexagons, and designs as unique and creative as our students themselves.

Programs like iRobot are one of many ways we are preparing our scholars to be the next generation of innovators. If our students are going to succeed in a rapidly changing world, they are going to need both the computer skills and collaborative teamwork they learn through computer science.

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