The following is a press release from the Connecticut Friends School, a private K-8 school in Wilton. 

This past year Connecticut Friends School expanded its 7th and 8th grade curricular offering to include robotics. The Robotics program at CFS is one of a number of interdisciplinary, technology-driven investigations that align the work and preparation of the students with developing industries and fields of study. Today’s practical life skills, at the hands-on level, are very different than they were two hundred, one hundred, or even twenty years ago.

Further, the Robotics program puts a premium not only on utilizing core academic skills, such as mathematics and writing, but also requires the students solve real problems based on real feedback, to employ a variety of critical and creative thinking strategies, to collaborate, communicate, and promote a position based on accurate data and clear reasoning. Taken together this collection of social and thinking skills is commonly identified as 21st Century Skills.

The Robotics program is based on the curriculum developed by Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy. Through carefully sequenced lessons the students learned the basics of building a robot and programming its controlling computer. Challenged to execute certain tasks with their robots, the students turned into teams of problem-solvers managing surprises and setbacks when either their mechanical creations or their reasoning expressed through programming did not deliver the results they were expecting.

One middle school student offered, “It is really interesting — a lot of trial and error.  It takes patience, flexibility and problem solving.’’

For each robot the students worked in pairs or in teams of three. The Friends school classmates quickly found that cooperation between the groups of robotics students helped everyone to reach their goals and that there was no cost to any group as each group successfully completed increasingly complex challenges.

To bring together and celebrate all their work as robot builders and programmers, the students invited their parents and CFS students from the rest of the K-8 program for a demonstration of each group’s robot. The assembled audience was treated to a display of robots that moved by audio signal (a clap); tracked the border of a tabletop by way of light sensor readings; raced about the classroom by remote control; loaded and launched small spheres; and play music like an electronic guitar. The students were proud to share what they had learned and achieved after much engaged and spirited effort.

This past year, too, CFS 5th and 6th grade students found the Animation program (based on a curriculum developed by the Jacob Burns Media Arts Lab) to be an engaging, interdisciplinary investigation calling upon them to put into practice their 21st Century skills.

Before animating anything, the students learned of the primacy of story and how to develop a script and then a storyboard, building initial ideas into narratives with a beginning, middle and end, and then identifying the sequence of events and each component of each shot. Outfitted with iPads and computers, the iStopMotion and iMovie apps, the students created artwork and then added sound (dialog, music, effects) and refined the look of their films in the post-production phase of their work.

Through this new Animation program, each of the students brings to their production companies a range of competencies including: artistic skills, technological facility, an ability to measure, estimate and calculate, storytelling and writing skills plus the flair of a (vocal) performer.

A 6th grade student said, “I like our animation studies because you get to collaborate and work with others and nobody is ever left out.  The end product is really cool.”

The students proudly premiered their films for the whole Connecticut Friends School community at the school’s annual Talent Night, adding a new dimension to the school’s celebration of each other’s talents and their courage to share and perform.

Both of these new Robotics and Animation programs augment and integrate a curriculum that prioritizes the students’ rigorous preparation for the world they will be building by engaging them meaningfully in their work. Their learning is deep. The problems they solve and the projects they propose are actual. And they share their learning both at every small step with each other and their teachers and then finally with the whole community.

Co-Head of School and middle school teacher Mark Dansereau notes, “It is exciting to be an educator in a school where I can identify programs that challenge all of us to stretch and to more actively understand our ever-changing world. And then I find that sweet spot where the students take off with the material I know serves their growth, development and preparation. These programs are not add-ons but opportunities for motivating, and integrative experiences for our students.”

Connecticut Friends School is a fully accredited, independent, PreK-8 grade school providing students with an education that fosters self-confidence, intellectual curiosity, and compassion for others. The school is small by design; the educational program is dynamic, supportive, and engaging.

To contact the school, call 203.762.9860 or visit their website or Facebook page.