By Tessa Raebeck
Ask seventh grader Monasia Street what her favorite subject in school is and you may be surprised by the answer: sonar detection. Along with the rest of her class at the Bridgehampton School, Monasia has just finished designing, building and programming robots that can trace roads using light sensors, turn on at the sound of a clap and, Monasia’s favorite, spin around upon detecting an oncoming structure.
Under the guidance of technology teacher Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz, Bridgehampton students are learning to write code and program computers, skills considered vital in the ever-expanding technology fields.
“The curriculum that goes with this is fabulous, ” Carmack-Fayyaz told the parents, students and administrators gathered at the school board meeting last Wednesday. “It really integrates science, math and technology.”
Carmack-Fayyaz showed a video to the board by the Hour of Code, an organization dedicated to ensuring every American student has the opportunity to try computer science.
In the video, a young Steve Jobs says everyone in the country should learn how to program a computer and President Barack Obama encourages students, “Don’t just play on your phone, program it.”
Dr. Lois Favre, Bridgehampton’s superintendent, has committed to a five-year plan to improve the school’s technology curriculum and included a number of updates in a preliminary draft of the district’s 2014-2015 budget presented at Wednesday’s meeting.
The technology program is housed down a winding staircase in the basement of the school. The room has many purposes; students split their time between a laboratory shop area used for building and a computer room for design and programming. The seventh grade just finished its robotics course and now the eighth grade gets a turn in the lab.
Claudio Figueroa, a high school junior, assists Carmack-Fayyaz in the classroom. On Tuesday, the eighth graders received kits for a new electronic “Simon” project. Figueroa explained to the younger students that they would build a game sort of like Simon Says and helped them interpret the directions.
As the eighth graders unwrapped their next challenge, the seventh graders were busy playing around with their programs and assembling an obstacle course used to show off the robots’ skills.
After pushing some buttons on her robot, Paige Hoyt watched as it expertly wiggled along a U-shaped black road on the course. Also in the seventh grade, Paige explained how the robot uses its light sensor to differentiate between the black road and white surface and its “B and C motors” to move forward.
“Robotics is one of my favorite classes,” said Aziza Brunson. Her friend Jalisa Hopson agrees, “I like building the robots and programming [them] for swing turn and point turn.”
“I like how you get to teach robots to do their own thing,” said Autumn Coffey, a seventh grader who uses her robot to figure out the circumference of a circle.
The kids understand the language used to code the robots; they align squares labeled only with pictures or letters in the computer program and know exactly what that will create on the obstacle course.
The technology classroom is loud with discussion and filled with energy as students move around sharing ideas, testing programs and showing off their designs.
Monasia patiently explained how setting the robot to 1,045 degrees would allow it to “do a little spin but not too long.”
After her robot moved forward, hit a house, detected the impact with its touch sensor and spun around, she said of the effort to design and build the machine, “It was kind of easy.”