October 22, 2021

Building a foundation

Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Parker Elementary School kindergartner Evan Greene speaks with a voice-activated robot called Meccano on Tuesday during Makerspace lab in Cortland.

Two glowing and vibrating robotic balls zoomed Thursday morning around the Makerspace lab at Parker Elementary School in Cortland, operated by sixth-graders Ali Metcalf and Diana Howard.

They even sneezed.

Called Spheros, the robotic orbs are the latest additions to the lab run by Librarian Kim Hay and they wouldn’t be possible without a recent grant from the Cortland Public Education Foundation Inc.
The foundation awarded seven grants totaling $3,925 to the Cortland School District for its spring 2018 programs.

Not all of them are as snazzy as sneezing robot spheres, but don’t tell that to the recipients:

• Kathleen Elliott-Birdsall’s class at Randall Elementary School is getting grasp of leadership qualities through continued access to the Leader in Me, Seven Habits of Healthy Kids, program.

• A digital storytelling club at Barry Elementary will get a camcorder, camera and memory cards.

• Randall Elementary got “breakout boxes,” interactive puzzle sets that teach critical-thinking skills.

• Barry Elementary got specialized pens to help teach reading skills.

• The Cortland Junior-Senior High School will get a new 3-D printer.

• Virgil Elementary School will have a soul music program to encourage critical thinking about song lyrics, culminating in a musical performance students will write in collaboration with a professional musician.

At Parker, the three glowing balls join a number of other robots, including Dash and Dot, and a 4-foot-tall robot that dances, walks and gives hugs.

Parker Elementary School kindergartners Isabella Howard, left, and Cooper Reagan work with programmable, remote-controlled spherical robots on Tuesday during Makerspace lab in Cortland.

The Spheros, operated by tablet, teach basic coding and are used by kindergartners through sixth graders, Hay said.

Metcalf and Howard sent their Spheros on different missions Thursday morning, crashing them into things or running them as fast as possible to escape “tetrons.”

The robots came with measuring tape and protractors, however, so for more advanced uses, kids can practice math skills by coding them to navigate angled turns, charting the path on the ground.

Since the school just got the Spheros, Metcalf and Howard were playing more than programing. Hay hasn’t had students take on coding them — yet. That will come later, and be for the older students, though it is very simple, rudimentary, drag and click coding, she said.

“There is no level of apprehension with technology for kids these days,” Hay said. “They are just like, ‘give it to me and I’ll figure it out.’”

The Cortland Public Education Foundation, according to its news release announcing the grant funds, raises money throughout the year to enhance education for Cortland City School District students.