While walking through the hallways of Nagel Middle School, a 7th and 8th grade building filled with 1200 students, something caught my attention. In fact, I took a double-take as I saw a small robot traversing the hallway flanked by two female students with laptops. As I approached, I ran into their teacher, Rose Arnell, an ELO teacher. She immediately saw me and approached, “I’m so glad you are here so you can see this! The girls are programming Finches to write the name of a powerful woman. You can see all of their attempts and their success.” Two posters taped to the wall showed evidence of iteration and finally, success. Rose Arnell explains:
The Finch robotic project began through a grant through the Forest Hills Foundation for Education (FHFE). I was awarded funds for a grant called, Young Women Compute which is being followed up by year 2 of the grant at both high schools in their computer technology programs.
In 7th grade, students are taught basic programming using Scratch, a computing program through MIT. In 8th grade, they apply those coding skills to program a Finch robot to do various things. Students began with an exploration of their coding skills to make the robot move. First, they had to code the Finch to avoid an obstacle then they played a game of Infection. A programmed, red nosed Finch would try and infect the blue nosed finches. Once infected, their nose turned red, and they became part of the group that tried to infect the others.
Their final work was to program the Finch to spell out the name of their respective Finch. Our Finches, because they were part of the Young Women Compute grant, were named after strong women in history including names like Rosa Parks, Malala, Gloria Steinem, and Marie Curie.
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