Champions debuts robotics program at national conference

NAO, the centerpiece of Champions' new robotics program, welcomed visitors to the Champions booth at this week's National Charter Schools Conference.

NAO, the centerpiece of Champions’ new robotics program, welcomed visitors to the Champions booth at this week’s National Charter Schools Conference.

Champions leaders chartered a course into a brave new world today, showcasing their new Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum enhancement program at the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s annual conference in New Orleans.

Last fall Champions tested the “Roboteers” program at Asher Elementary in Marlboro, New Jersey. Students in the program use Choregraphe, a drag-and-drop software, to teach the robots visual and verbal recognition. One popular activity combines writing and coding as students write a “Choose Your Own Adventure” style story and program the robot to be the storyteller – and to choose various plot tangents to explore.

Asher Elementary Champions students even took one of their robots, Captain America, to a school board meeting to showcase the program. (Read more about that unique presentation online.)

The program was such a hit with students and school officials Champions leaders began plans to expand the program. This summer Champions will begin offering coding and robotics camps to elementary-age children at select programs around the country, using a sophisticated robot generally only seen in higher education settings.

Champions leaders at the National Charter Schools Conference in New Orleans this week.

Champions leaders Kate Schrader, Janet Ranaldi, Melinda Smith, and Tom Fitzgerald at the National Charter Schools Conference in New Orleans this week.

“Champions is the only before- and after-school provider offering this kind of highly interactive, technologically advanced robotics program,” said Tom Fitzgerald, senior vice president of business development for Champions. “This program is a way to get children excited about STEM curriculum and set a foundation for future study in computer science and engineering.”

The programs will utilize NAO by Aldebaran Robotics, a child-sized humanoid robot designed to be interactive. Students can program NAO to do a variety of actions including walking and talking and can even teach the robot to learn and respond to verbal commands and facial recognition. In addition, the act of programming NAO helps children build on their critical thinking and problem solving skills as well as teaching them cause and effect.

Charter school leaders and educators from around the country saw a sneak peek of NAO and a demonstration of the educational components of the robotics program at this week’s National Charter School Conference. Champions hosted a similar demonstration in Nashville in March at the National School Boards Association’s annual conference. Watch NAO in action in this clip from the NSBA conference.

“This is an exciting time for Champions as we lead the way in the cutting-edge market of STEM curriculum,” said Tom. “It’s incredible to watch children grasp the fundamentals of highly complex concepts like critical thinking and coding through their interactions with NAO.”

See more photos from the conference on the KU Flickr page.

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