Programming Edison Bots at Brewer Community School

Poster in Mr. Kumpa’s room connecting computer science tasks to classroom concepts
Edison Bot up close
Edison Bot up close

Pictured: Poster in Mr. Kumpa’s room connecting computer science tasks to classroom concepts.

Computer science isn’t so scary, just ask Bob Kumpa’s 8th-grade science students at Brewer Community School in Central Maine. As a precursor to a physics unit, students integrated computer science skills into class by programming an Edison Bot to navigate a maze of their creation.

Students drew any design they desired on a poster with the expectation that they would then program an Edison Bot to navigate through the design. Mr. Kumpa also required the Bot perform actions like going in reverse, spinning, and turning. There was no lack of creativity as students designed themed tracks such as Chutes and Ladders, Super Mario, trick-or-treating, passing on a soccer pitch and even one where the Bot travels the digestive system.

Eighth grader, Julia Rall, who also programmed her Bot to perform the Star Wars theme song, says the creativity aspect is her favorite. She wasn’t intimidated about the computer science, saying, “I feel like we’ve made it pretty easy. It’s just a lot of kinks that you have to work out.”

Students programmed their Bot either with Block or Python coding included in the program EdScratch. To navigate their design, some students elected to conduct the trial and error method, or, like project partners Julia Spencer and Delaney McDonough, some attempted to precisely measure out the distance and angles ahead of time. Delaney said that she and Julia felt that was the best way to do it because “that way we didn’t have to [unnecessarily] keep doing it over and over again.”

Kumpa told us the experience of perseverance via debugging does not happen by chance, but rather was one of the fundamental parts of the activity. It is those types of skills he hopes will translate to other sciences and other subjects, which is the main reason why he used the Edison Bots in the first place.

The Bots were supplied in 2018 from a grant through the Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center) at the University of Maine, in conjunction with their Maine STEM Partnership division, for a three-year study looking at the impact of computer science. Kumpa, who has done extensive work with the RiSE Center over the past 12 years, described the goal of the study to see if “teaching computer science will improve the learning of other sciences.”

Besides Brewer, there are 18 other schools involved in the study across the state. While Kumpa is focused on connecting computer science to physics, other schools have the option of also integrating computer science into life science or earth science.

Should this study prove fruitful, Kumpa said the hope will be to “allocate dollars towards moving computer science to the younger grades.” Bringing students more exposure to computer science provides not only regular experience with problem solving and critical thinking, but also an opportunity to shake off the intimidating stigma of computer science.

For further information about the Edison Bots or the RiSE Center, please feel free to reach out to Bob Kumpa at rkumpa@breweredu.org.