Notre Dame Center for STEM Education Programming and Robotics Camp Yields Success for Middle School Students

August 22, 2014William Schmitt

Notre Dame Leads New Initiative to Excite Students about Computer Coding and a Future in STEM

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Thanks to an innovative camp designed under the auspices of Notre Dame’s Center for STEM Education, students in Catholic schools in Arizona, Florida, and Indiana came away from the summer of 2014 with experiences that went far beyond suntans, pools, and the great outdoors.

Finches and pythons became their friends, you might say, but in this case you’d be talking about Finch robots through which these kids—mostly in the sixth through ninth grades—learned how to program computers using Snap! and the sophisticated Python language. They participated in the roll-out of an initiative called ND CORE, or “Notre Dame Coding and Robotics Experience.”

ND CORE was part of a larger suite of summer STEM experiences that engaged nearly 200 students in eight cities across the United States.

The three-week curriculum for these budding computer programmers emerged from the Center for STEM Education in 2013 as the product of three educators formed in the University’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE). Dr. Matthew Kloser (who received his M. Ed. through ACE in 2004) led the team and directs the Center.

Middle-school students from the Notre Dame ACE Academies in Tucson, as well as schools in the Palm Beach, FL, and South Bend, IN, areas, attended the camp. A distinctively early, effective, and hands-on introduction to computer programming yielded exciting experiences for students, teachers, and parents alike.

J.C. Clark, one of the two curriculum designers working with Kloser, returned to northern Indiana this July to serve as lead instructor for the roll-out held at Marian High School. He said he was delighted with the results.

“I’ve been blown away by how much these kids have progressed,” he commented. “I feel so blessed to be teaching this camp to these kids and just seeing their growth.” He noted the capstone project in which students customized behaviors for their Finches to act without remote control, in response to their built-in sensors.

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Camp instruction at St. Luke School in Palm Beach earlier in the summer also yielded impressive results, according to a report in The Florida Catholic. Finches at all of the sites displayed their programming through singing, dancing, reacting to heat and light, and much more.

The initiative, ready for roll-out to more Catholic school students in collaboration with various dioceses, strives to excite young people, including females and underrepresented populations, about programming and STEM literacy.

“The majority of jobs in the future will probably deal with some sort of computer applications, probably a lot with computer science,” said Clark, describing his goals for the curriculum at Marian. “The more you can get kids exposed to computer science, the better.”

Clark, a 2013 M. Ed. recipient through ACE and now a high school science teacher in Denver, assisted Kloser in the curriculum planning, along with Michael Comuniello. He teaches high school science with ACE in the Tampa Bay area. The Center and ACE are part of Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives.

Photos are taken from the Palm Beach, FL, ND CORE camp experience hosted by St. Luke School in summer 2014 and developed by the Center for STEM Education.