By: Paige Roberts

Innovating the Future

“That’s our future. We can’t ignore it.”

Nikole Blanchard is the Director of Innovation and Technology at The Dunham School. She was selected to receive a $500 ExxonMobil Star Teacher Grant to purchase a starter coding robot called Bee-Bot. Teachers use the robot, and other tools in the Innovation Lab, to introduce preschool students to STEM concepts like sequencing, estimation, and problem solving during early childhood education.

When learning principles and concepts, like the alphabet, students program Bee-Bot to navigate across a mat to a specific location reinforcing their understanding of the alphabet while building a foundation for technological literacy. Caitlin Hamilton, an Innovation Lab Teacher, likes how Bee-Bot gives students a concrete tool to learn abstract concepts like coding. “If they’re learning about the rainforest, we can put all kinds of images on [the mats] and have them code through there. That gives us that flexibility to differentiate content for students to reach them where they’re at in class, and I love that option,” said Hamilton.

Last year, The Dunham School opened its Innovation Lab for students and teachers to collaborate and implement lessons across curriculum. Students are encouraged to bring their own ideas to life by using the resources available to them. Through this project-based learning, students are able to take learned concepts and combined them with their own imagination to create something new.

The Dean of Faculty and Lower School Head Deedra LaPlace, recognizes the need to build a strong STEM foundation for students at an early age.

“We were just reading an article about the year 2020 that asked, ‘How many millions of computer jobs will go unfilled in the United States?’ Children need, of course, literacy. They need to learn how to read and to write, but they also need technological literacy. And that’s what we’re providing to these kids so that when they do get out, they will have an advantage over other applicants for jobs,” she said.

Upholding the commitment to STEM education, students participate in the Hour of Code, a worldwide day of coding that takes place each year during Computer Science Education Week. Dunham also offers after school robotics clubs for students starting in fourth grade. Blanchard understands the need to invest students in STEM education for the future of Baton Rouge.

It’s our responsibility to train students from Pre-K to graduation to leave us and be good citizens in our world. That’s our future. We can’t ignore it,” said Blanchard.

Click here to meet more ExxonMobil Star Teachers.

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