Fueling digital classrooms

Teachers receive their Sphero Robotic Balls from the Garland Education Foundation

This article from Caren Rodriguez was originally published in the GISD Newsroom

Students might notice new technologically advanced tools in their classrooms this year. Coding devices, gaming systems, robotics equipment and SMARTboards will continue to enhance numerous lessons throughout 2016-17, thanks to the Garland ISD Education Foundation (GEF). The nonprofit dedicated nearly half of its 2015-16 grant budget to 21st-century-driven ingenuities, helping to transform classrooms across the district.

“Technology is a very critical piece of education in today’s world,” said GEF President Lisa Cox (pictured). “The district has put a great deal of emphasis on digital learning, and it has done a very good job of providing teachers with the tools they need. Our mission is to support Garland ISD’s initiatives and help supplement those efforts.”

GEF’s five-member grant committee gifted approximately $33,000 to teachers to acquire innovative tools. Dot and Dash Coding Robot packs, Ozobot sets and Osmo systems are some of the inventive materials teachers applied for and received funds to purchase.

“Ozobot is a fantastic new robot that allows students to open new doors into computer science and STEM learning,” said Northlake Elementary School second-grade teacher Jill Olthouse. “Ozobot works with special markers that allow students to code using colored lines and drawings. These skills not only benefit the areas of math and science, but also language arts and social studies. Students have to pay close attention to what code they type, how to map out certain obstacles, and how to collaborate as a team.” 

At the secondary level, every campus will introduce Sphero Robotic Balls this fall. GEF’s first-ever $10,000 Innovation, Growth and Imagination Grant sponsored the September roll out, spearheaded by Digital Learning Facilitator Brian Dean.

“The ability to code, or program computers, drives innovation throughout the U.S. and world, yet it remains largely absent from public education,” Dean said. “Sphero provides an engaging, relevant and fun way for teachers to promote computer science and 21st-century skills across curriculum.”

A Sphero robot is programmed via a smartphone app or tablet, enabling students to demonstrate critical thinking, collaboration and creativity. Secondary master teachers, known as i3 members, will feature a Sphero in their classrooms.

“These master teachers implement forward-thinking strategies with their students and serve as leaders and ambassadors for 21st-century skills at their campuses,” Dean explained. “They are self-motivated and will integrate the device into their instruction. They will then share their experience with colleagues, who will be able to check out the robots to use in their classrooms. Students will make these robots do amazing things.”

Cox is grateful she is part of an organization that can help supply these educational tools sure to revolutionize learning.

“We feel very strongly about supporting technology in the classroom. We need to prepare students for the jobs and careers of tomorrow—whether that be training for teachers or helping with grants,” she expressed. “Access to technology increases students' potential for success. We are proud we can do our part to help make that happen in GISD.”