By Lisa Capobianco
Fifth grader Andrew Perry of Thalberg School helped code and design a robot that could navigate through a maze, find a fire and then extinguish the fire.
Andrew was one of over 20 fifth grader students identified as gifted and talented in the Southington school district who had the opportunity to pursue a project like this with the partnership of Talcott Mountain Science Center. Established toward the end of last year, the partnership serves as a grant-funded enrichment program for gifted and talented students who were identified as “Like Learners.”
“This was above and beyond what we do in class,” said Andrew, who was invited by Talcott Mountain to compete on a team for the 2014 Trinity College Dire Fighting Home Robot Contest. “It was a very good opportunity to extend what I can do.”
During a recent Board of Education meeting, the students shared their projects with the community, highlighting the details on what they worked on and what they learned. From creating robots that played music to researching marine animals to determining how solar energy could help provide power in homes, the fifth graders engaged themselves in topics they were interested in pursuing.
“Those were just true accomplishments that were given when kids had the ability to take the ceiling off,” said Kelley School Teacher Erin Nattrass, who serves as a district facilitator for the Talcott enrichment program. “They came up with some phenomenal projects.”
The enrichment program kicked off last October with a district-wide training for students and district facilitators, followed by a virtual online meet-and-greet with scientists. Students learned how to use Canvas, a software program that allowed them to communicate directly not only with scientists but also with their peers. Parents
“Additionally, the students were given the opportunity to practice 21st century skills,” Nattrass told school board members during the meeting. “As educators, we want our students to be able to communicate both in person, but also virtually.”
While using the program promoted 21st century skills, District Facilitator Jonathon Cop, a teacher at Thalberg School, said it also served as an undertaking for students, since they not only had to learn how to use the program, but also had to learn how to coordinate with scientists.
“This was a massive undertaking for students, and families,” said Cop, adding that parents also had a lot of paperwork during the process. “In the future we may be looking at having conversations with those parents about what else they would have needed to ease that process and glue it into this.”
Looking ahead, Nattrass and Cop said they are looking into opening the program to different students, especially those who show a high level of interest in science.
“We started off with candidacy being our students that were identified “Like Learners,” said Nattrass. “These students were excellent to work with, but in the future we’d like to look into potentially opening up to some different students—thinking about the fact that this was a science-oriented project, and really looking for a way to find those students who are truly, highly capable and also interested in the science is the direction we’d like to go.”
Cop added that in the future, the question remains regarding who will move the program forward next year, adding that there may be some opportunities for grant funding in the future.
“We’re having conversations with Talcott Mountain about some opportunities that may be available for some grant funding to move this forward,” Cop told the school board. “It’s a question mark that we still have.”