A is for ‘automaton’: Sunset Park group shows teachers how to incorporate robots into lesson plans

Lesson plan: Sunset Parkers Yadira and Gaelen Hadlett gave about 20 local teachers a lesson in incorporating robotics into the classroom.
Photo by Angel Zayas
Teachers practice using robots during the workshop.

Courtesy Sunset Spark

They’re hoping to ignite teachers’ passion for robotics.

Husband-and-wife tech duo Sunset Spark schooled Brooklyn teachers over the summer on coding and robots in workshops that aimed to help teachers reprogram their lesson plans to emphasize technology this school year. The couple hosted the workshop to demystify droids and help educators integrate tech into the classroom or start robotics clubs at their respective schools, a founder said.

“One of the big problems with robotics is that teachers are afraid to do it,” said Gaelen Hadlett, a Sunset Park software engineer who started Sunset Spark with wife Yadira to provide engineering and science classes to local kids. “Our workshops get them comfortable designing on their own and shows them ways to design their own activities instead of using pre-made lessons.”

Sunset Spark hosted the workshops on the distant isle Manhattan for three days in July and worked with 20 teachers, most of whom were from Brooklyn, to master the gadgetry.

Instructors explored Sunset Spark’s recipe book of robot designs and brainstormed ways to adapt it for their classrooms. One built a robotic printing press to demonstrate print-making to her students. Another constructed a caterpillar-like robot to make learning about the insect come to life.

Using smart technology to help kids learn is a no-brainer, one educator said.

“I’m definitely going to incorporate this into the curriculum,” said Bernadette Verdemare, a fourth-grade teacher at PS 131 in Sunset Park. “I already thought having the kids code robots to collect or crush trash would be great for a unit on recycling, but we also want to see where we can take this throughout the year, more after-school programs, a once-a-month club, there’s a lot of places we can take this.”

The automatons can go far beyond introducing science and math concepts to students — they can help pupils hone skills such as critical thinking and literacy, another guru said.

“The effects this has on other areas of learning is amazing,” said Karen Bracken, a kindergarten teacher at PS 24. “I think it has so much potential to help our kids think sequentially, and I think it helps them plan, to be patient, to think analytically, it just goes on.”

Once school kicks off, Sunset Spark will send out monthly e-mails to teachers with new robot designs to inspire them, gadgetry-related reading materials, and questionnaires to get students’ creative currents flowing. It’s content teachers are looking forward to, said Verdemare.

“When I first walked into that workshop I was extremely intimated, but by the end of it I was impressed with myself,” she said. “Now I’m really excited to bring this to my students when the year starts.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2517. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.

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