Hands-on learning teaches BV students real-world skills

Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Carroll County agricultural extension agent Olivia Foster-Curry helps 2nd-grade student Gabriel Jiles construct his model of a plant’s root system during the 2nd-grade 4-H program at Berryville Elementary School on Wednesday, March 29. For more photos, see Page 16.
Photo by David Bell/Carroll County News

While the combination of computer programming, agriculture and economics would seem like a tough workload for most college students, Berryville second-graders have been studying the three subjects, and more, week after week without breaking a sweat. The trick seems to be having a fun time while learning.

Elementary principal Kelly Swofford said that the second-grade class has participated in a few new educational programs this year, such as coding and 4-H lessons, to help them begin the development of real world skills like computer programming and agriculture.

Each Wednesday this semester, volunteers from the high school’s Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) program have visited the elementary school, he said, and helped second-graders learn how to operate Bee-Bots, small robots used to teach sequencing, estimation and problem-solving to young students.

Tabitha Edwards and Lanitra Webb, two of the high school volunteers, said teaching the elementary students how to use the Bee-Bots provides them with the skills they will need in computer classes when they are older.

“A Bee-Bot is a programming bot to help students be more familiar with coding for when they get into higher classes,” Edwards said.

“We have these maps with squares on them. With every square, there is a button you can push on the Bee-Bot, and it will move to that square.”

Webb said there are different methods for programming the Bee-Bots to allow for students who learn better with tactile, or hands-on, approaches.

This includes a TacTile Reader, she said, where students use chips, known as command tiles, to build a program that the Bee-Bot will follow.

“Instead of coding in movements, we can just take these little chips and plug them into the reader,” she said. “It will send the programming pattern to the Bee-Bot, which will then follow the commands.”

The students are making quick connections between the patterns they create and the behavior of the Bee-Bots. Second-grader

Raylea Hamilton said her group was trying to get their Bee-Bot from the music room to the art room on a school map.

“You move it by pushing the arrows to turn it,” Hamilton said. “You have to push the right buttons to get the Bee-Bot to move how you want it to.”

The Bee-Bots are not second-graders’ only source of STEM curriculum during the school week.

In the 4-H program last Wednesday, students learned about how the STEM field connects to roots, leaves and, well, stems.

Olivia Foster-Curry and Leadra Martin of the Carroll County Extension Office taught students about plant structures by having them make flower pots using styrofoam cups and chenille sticks.

“We would put dirt in our flower pots because plants have to have food to live just like you do,” said Foster-Curry.

“We’re going to use these brown fuzzy sticks as roots, and the green fuzzy sticks will be the stem.”

She told the students that plants eat and drink by spreading their roots out under the ground and using them to bring in nutrients and water that they need.

Martin said that the 4-H program for second-graders was developed for this school year in order to bring 4-H education into school and promote interest in the program.

“We hope that by that by getting some of these kids exposed to 4-H they will maybe continue with it after they get out of school,” she said.

“We’ve worked out this program with Kelly, and it was a good deal for both of us. He needed some volunteers, and we were happy to do it so we could work with all the kids.”

Martin said that the 4-H program has had the students be everything from gardeners to engineers to wildlife specialists.

“We do a lot of STEM activities,” she said.

The second-graders went from being gardeners and computer programmers on Wednesday to business tycoons on Thursday and Friday as part of Market Day.

Misti Crewse, intern for second grade, said Market Day is an opportunity for students to take on the real world role of producers and consumers.

“They choose whether they want to provide a good or a service, and then they create their advertisement and their product,” Crewse said.

Students set up booths for their goods and services and took turns shopping and buying.

“We’ve got a lot happening at Berryville elementary,” Swofford said. “Our students are always learning something new.”

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